Farmers and ranchers leasing land from DLNR need greater certainty

Farmers and ranchers leasing land from DLNR need greater certainty

Randy / Chris
Randy Cabral, left, is president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau, which is comprised of 1,900 farm family members statewide. Chris English is president of the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council, which includes 140-plus member ranchers.

By Randy Cabral and Chris English
February 21, 2016

Hawaii’s goal of food security is at risk and farmers across the state need help.

Two bills introduced at the state Legislature, House Bill 2501 and Senate Bill 3001, brought to light a practice that is and has long been common with the state Board of Land and Natural Resources: that of issuing month-to-month revocable permits a year at a time.

Legislative and media attention has focused on water permits held by Alexander &Baldwin, Inc., that have been in litigation for 15 years.

There are, however, numerous other farmers who depend on revocable water permits that have been renewed from year to year.

These bills are necessary because in January, a Circuit Court ruled that the month-to-month revocable permits issued by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) are supposed to be held on a temporary basis.

The judge found instead, that many of the revocable permits have been renewed annually for many years.

However, it is not for lack of trying that many farmers and ranchers do not have long-term leases. Despite their best efforts, they have been unable to get from DLNR this most basic security.

The media has recently noted that hundreds of revocable permits for state lands have long been issued by the DLNR, and drew attention to a few revocable permits which, when taken out of context, could be perceived as sweetheart deals for the permit holders. But the greater number of revocable permits are held by small farmers and ranchers working hard to stay economically viable.

HB 2501 and SB 3001 address only water permits, and do not address revocable permits for state lands.

However, the Circuit Court’s ruling does not distinguish between water and land revocable permits Based on the court’s reasoning and interpretation, all revocable permits — for both land and water — could be deemed invalid.

Although there may be some who abuse the system and prefer revocable permits as a means of circumventing the public auction process, serious farmers and ranchers — most of whom are members of the Hawaii Farm Bureau and the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council — want long-term leases and are willing and ready to engage in the process to acquire them, rather than having to live with the uncertainty that their livelihoods could be snatched away from them on 30 days notice or at the end of the year.

At a recent legislative hearing, a lawmaker suggested that the process is broken and needs to be fixed. We agree, and we are encouraged by the new DLNR announcement that the agency intends to form a task force to recommend changes to its controversial revocable permit program.

But while the Legislature and the DLNR are working to fix the process, don’t penalize farmers and ranchers by leaving us in the legal limbo created by the recent court ruling.

Provide us with the means to validate our revocable permits that have been renewed again and again.

Support local farming by supporting these two measures which will allow us to continue to farm while the process is being fixed.