More Highlights of the HFB convention

State water use permits
Kauai Farmer Jerry Ornellas was appointed to lead an ad hoc committee to review the DLNR requirements to convert farmers’ revocable water permits to longterm leases. The committee hopes to identify potential solutions for farmers to more easily meet the requirements.

Ag theft
Kauai farmer Sherwood Conant said ag theft continues to be a big concern. It’s a problem statewide and it includes trespass, vandalism and equipment theft.

To address this issue, HFB worked with Scott Enright, chair of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. Enright recently funded and implemented a pilot program on the Big Island, in cooperation with the prosecutor’s office there. If successful, this program could be used as a model on other islands.

Darcy Oishi, biological control section chief of HDOA, spoke about the proposed new biosecurity plan. It’s intended to protect agriculture, as well as the state’s $14.9 billion tourism industry. Mosquito-borne diseases, fire ants and biting midges are of real concern, among other unwanted potential introductions.

The plan covers an area that extends from before the port of entry, all the way up into the more remote natural areas. “That’s why it’s inter-agency, because the watershed is of value,” he said. “The Koolau watershed alone is valued at $14 billion.”

HDOA and the Department of Land and Natural Resources are currently responsible for biosecurity, but they receive just .4% and 1% of the state budget, respectively. Taking an interagency approach could increase funding for biosecurity efforts.

Food Safety
A panel discussion addressed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Testing water sources and meeting water quality standards will be one of the many obstacles for farmers. Some Hawaii water sources are likely to have higher pathogen counts than the mainland, due to the warm, tropical environment.

Some 10 tests will be required each year for those using surface water, which is the most problematic source. The HDOA will be doing a statewide water survey to determine the microbial profile of non-municipal sources.

“We need to have broad mitigation help from the university or somebody because nearly all the ag water is from open sources,” said farmer Larry Jefts. Although some farmers may qualify for certain exemptions, “insurance companies will not underwrite you if you have a FSMA exemption.”

The federal rules require specific water tests, but testing capacity is limited on Neighbor Islands. It’s still unclear whether alternative testing methods will be allowed.

“First and foremost, I urge farmers to get certified,” said Tish Uyehara of Armstrong Produce. “The world is a very different place today. We look at things from a global perspective today. About 3,000 people die daily from food borne illnesses. Some of our customers want not only the distributor, but the grower, to be food (safety) certified. There’s tremendous liability for us if the grower is not certified. Traceability is really important. There is a lot that goes into (this), and we understand the frustration of the farmers.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a website devoted to this issue and this page has the latest updates and guidance documents: Locally, county extension offices have informational materials available.

Hawaii Farm Bureau’s Food Safety Committee is currently reviewing the rules to determine how to best provide assistance to its members.