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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Isle ag sales hit 28-year high

by Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Growth at Cyanotech Corp. in Kailua, Kona helped fuel a 44 percent increase in revenue statewide from sales of algae products in 2008. Revenue from sales of all agricultural goods reached $609 million in 2008.

Cyanotech photo

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Revenue in 2008 from Hawai'i farms rose to a 28-year high despite drought conditions, according to the most recent annual assessment of statewide agriculture sales.

Local farm revenue rose 5.4 percent to $609 million from $578 million the year before, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The gain was modest, but it reversed what had been two consecutive years of lower industry revenue. It also ranked as the second-highest year for sales after $642 million in 1980.

Because historical sales aren't adjusted for inflation, sales in some other prior years would have exceeded the 2008 figure if the value of a dollar was adjusted. Still, the gain in 2008 was impressive especially because of severe drought that negatively affected many crops that aren't dependent on irrigation.

Driving most of the increase was exceptional growth in the seed industry, primarily seed corn. Significant gains also were made by macadamia nut growers and producers of algae.

However, 11 of the 20 largest commodities grown in the state experienced revenue declines.

"It's kind of a mixed bag," said Mark Hudson, the agency's Hawai'i field office director. "Seed was the great equalizer. All (other commodity revenue) could be down, but seed could wipe out all the losses easily."

Seed crop revenue was up 26 percent, or $36 million, to $177 million in 2008 from $141 million the year before.

For algae, revenue was up 44 percent to $15.7 million from $10.9 million. Macadamia nut sales rose 36 percent to $33.5 million from $24.6 million. Other major commodities with increases were papaya, eggs, basil, sweet potatoes, sod and ginger root.

Revenue declines occurred for sugarcane, coffee, cattle, bananas, potted palms, milk, potted dendrobiums, potted dracaena, cut anthuriums, hogs and potted oncidiinae.

Sales of pineapple, which historically has been one of Hawai'i's top crops, have been kept confidential to protect competitive information of individual farmers since 2007 when the number of major producers dropped from three to two.

It's expected that pineapple sales will be further diminished in the 2009 accounting of industry sales because of cutbacks made by Maui Land & Pineapple Co., which in November announced a complete shutdown of pineapple operations. Since then, a group of local businessmen have announced plans to restore about one-third of what Maui Land farmed in pineapple.

A shutdown of sugarcane farming on Kaua'i at the end of last year by Gay & Robinson would largely be reflected in 2010 agriculture sales. However, seed crops are forecast to continue their robust growth, which could again offset reductions in other crops.