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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 19, 2008

Ag bill an important stimulus for farmers

By Dean Okimoto

As we look back at this legislative session, we are very pleased with the many positive agricultural measures approved for Hawai'i's farmers and ranchers. The passage of Senate Bill 2646, incentives for important agricultural lands, was a historic and significant step in providing an economic stimulus measure of incentives for our local farmers and landowners to keep their lands in farming.

The passage of this bill will help Hawai'i move toward providing freshly grown fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, dairy and other local products that are critical to a strong and sustainable economy.

SB 2646 is the result of years of discussion, thoughtful analysis, and proactive approach by our legislators, state leaders and private sector stakeholders. The important agricultural lands bill provides critical economic support for agriculture by:

  • Providing tax credits for investment in agricultural ventures, including equipment, food processing facilities, irrigation systems, agricultural housing and other agriculture-related infrastructure.

  • Expediting permitting for needed agricultural processing.

  • Providing a process by which the state can guarantee loans by commercial lenders to farmers seeking to develop and implement agricultural projects, such as implementing plans for a value added processing line.

  • Providing a streamlined process to redesignate lands into urban, rural or conservation if they dedicate 85 percent of their lands into important agricultural lands. We believe this is good for agriculture overall, as it would put more of a landowner's land into ag production. Contrary to what some environmentalists are saying, we believe this is good, as more land goes into important agricultural land and if people look at the bill, it is even more difficult to take it out of important agricultural land in the future. Even the lands reclassified have to be in the county general plans already. So what are we giving up? These lands are already designated for reclassification!

    While this bill may not be perfect, we believe it is a bill that we can work with to keep our farmers viable and at the same time protect and preserve our most important agricultural lands as stated in our state Constitution.

    We are concerned about those environmental activists who hide behind the name of Hawai'i's agriculture, but continuously oppose initiatives that will help agriculture. The lack of understanding and comprehension of the positive economic impact of bills such as the important agricultural lands bill, to the agricultural industry is disturbing.

    Buzzwords to make people object to these bills were tossed about while ignoring the good that could occur for the agricultural industry and, ultimately, Hawai'i. It continues to concern those of us who are heavily invested and dedicated to the very difficult and challenging business of farming. They don't understand or they don't want to understand what it takes to grow a crop and compete with the global marketplace and meet the everyday struggle to keep your farm from being devastated by the natural elements.

    Environmental activists, by their actions, sacrifice the thousands of farm families striving to provide affordable food and fiber in the name of the "environment." They continue to criticize and oppose legislation that will favor the economic well-being of Hawai'i's farmers and ranchers and thereby the citizenry of Hawai'i. Rarely do the environmental activists ever submit written testimony or testify in support of bills that would obviously help the farmers while providing lip service of supporting farmers. The realities of what it takes to have viable agriculture are lost in the rhetoric of wishful thinking.

    Our organization worked closely with the Land Use Research Foundation, an organization representing landowners, where farmers and large landowners collaborated together in resolving some of these more difficult and complex issues. By partnering with the landowners, we can take positive steps forward. If all we do is oppose each other, we will never get anywhere and we will certainly revert back to importing all of our food from other countries or states that don't have the same challenges as Hawai'i.

    While there is much more work to be done in strengthening Hawai'i's agricultural industry, this monumental agricultural bill goes a long way in providing a positive framework for our farm businesses.

    Dean Okimoto is president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.