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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 7, 2007

Thieves plunder Dole pine fields

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

More than a thousand pineapples have been stolen from Dole plantation fields in Wahiawa recently, the latest blow to an industry that suffers more than $2 million in losses each year.

Over the past two to three months, workers have noticed pineapples disappearing in bunches from Dole's Wahiawa plantation, officials said.

Thieves apparently filled the beds of several pickup trucks with pineapples and drove off, police said. In recent months thieves have also walked onto the property with cane knives and backpacks and some have driven dirt bikes onto the fields.

Dole has taken some precautions, such as digging trenches around the fields to hinder would-be thieves from driving onto the property.

Dole has lost about $3,000 worth of pineapples during the recent string of thefts, police said. Agriculture theft is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

"We are working with Dole and investigating the thefts," said Michelle Yu, public information officer for the Honolulu Police Department. "Agricultural theft is an islandwide problem and not limited to any particular area."

Dan Nellis, a Dole spokesman, declined comment.

The last time a major pineapple heist was reported was on Nov. 21, 2004, when more than 500 pineapples a Del Monte Corp. field in Kunia disappeared over several months. Police arrested three people.

Agricultural theft and vandalism cost Hawai'i farmers more than $2.5 million a year, according to the Hawai'i Farm Bureau. While a large company like Dole can recover quickly, family farmers can lose up to six months of revenue for much smaller thefts.

Farmers spend more than $7.4 million to protect their property each year but catching and convicting thieves is difficult and the punishments are not enough to deter future thefts, according to the bureau.

"For Dole, I'm sure they can bounce back but for small family farmers it takes a bigger toll," said Alan Takemoto, executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau. "For some, that's their sole income. It's frustrating to farmers because it goes on and on and on. The trick is to catch them and then you have to catch them in the act."

In 2004, the last year for which figures are available, agricultural theft, vandalism and security measures cost Hawai'i farmers $11.4 million, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

The theft of farm commodities, materials, equipment and other property was estimated at nearly $2 million; vandalism on farms amounted to $2 million; and farm security totaled $7.4 million.

O'ahu led the state with crop theft losses amounting to $218,000 and machinery and equipment losses totaling $506,000. The Big Island had the highest livestock theft losses, at $213,000.

Vandalism on farm property cost as much as thefts.

The figures are from a survey of 1,127 farmers statewide conducted in June by the Hawai'i Field Office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Reach Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.