6 local farms seeking emergency aid today
By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Sean Hao
Hawai'i farmers are seeking nearly $1.3 million in emergency loans as they continue to recover from record spring rains.
Six farms today will seek Board of Agriculture approval for $630,000 in low-interest loans, according to the agenda for the board's meeting. That's on top of 33 loans totaling $655,200 already granted to farmers facing lost crops in the wake of more than one month of rains.
Dean Matsukawa, administrator of the state Department of Agriculture Loan Division, said the agency already has granted more loans than for any other emergency. Damage from the rains isn't expected to have a major impact on overall farm sales, which were $544 million in 2004.
While availability of local produce is returning to normal, some crops have yet to recover, said Dean Okimoto, president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation and owner of Nalo Farms. That includes Hauula Tomatoes, which doesn't expect to resume sales until September, and Ken Kamiya's papaya farm on the North Shore.
Meanwhile, local eggplants and watermelons have returned to store shelves in recent weeks, though the availability of mangoes is lower than normal. That's pushed up prices slightly, Okimoto said.
"It might be available but at higher prices," he said. "That's because the supplies are not there."
Neither state nor federal officials have an estimate of the total cost of crops lost from one of the worst spells of rain in recent memory. However, actual farm losses will likely exceed the $1.3 million in state loans sought by farmers. That's because many farmers facing losses are not seeking state financial assistance.
For example, Kamiya said he lost at least $100,000 in sales this year after damage to half his papaya crop. Still, he is not seeking any loans.
"I thought about it, but it looks like I can survive without it," said Kamiya, who's replanting about 2,500 papaya trees lost to flooding. "I don't want to deal with the red tape."
Okimoto also knows what it's like to lose crops. He said he lost all 3 1/2 acres of baby greens, or about $100,000 in sales, last spring.
Among the farms seeking emergency loans today:
To expedite the loans, the agriculture department waived a requirement that borrowers be turned down by two banks, but the waiver only applies to loans of $25,000 or less.
"We want to make this process as easy as possible in order to get them the money they need in a timely basis," Matsukawa said.
Reach Sean Hao at firstname.lastname@example.org.