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Emergency ag loan program authorized for farmers affected by Maui, Hawai‘i Island wildfires

LIHU‘E — The Hawai‘i Board of Agriculture voted this week to immediately activate a $5 million emergency agricultural loan program, allowing farmers and ranchers on Maui and Hawai‘i Island to receive assistance following this month’s wildfires that killed at least 115 people and caused an estimated $6 billion in damages.

While the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture (HDOH) is currently still assessing the extent of damage to ag lands following the blaze. Agricultural Loan Administrator Dean Matsukawa told The Garden Island that the department has received several calls regarding fire and wind damage to crops and irrigation lines, adding the new program should hopefully assist with recovery efforts.

“We’re anticipating the loans being able to help them rebuild the farming infrastructure, whatever was damaged — the irrigation lines and whatever else they need,” Matsukawa said.

Maui’s agricultural woes aren’t just limited to crop and infrastructure damage, though. Matsukawa noted that even farmers whose lands avoided the inferno are now grappling with a much smaller market, as would-be visitors cancel their trips to Maui, severely weakening the island’s tourism sector.

“I think they will feel the impact quite a bit,” he said. “Most of them were 100 percent into the visitor industry, restaurants, those types of operations. And even the agritourism type of operations will be significantly affected — there’s a lot of zipline operations and agricultural tours, and that type of thing will all be impacted with the lack of tourists.”

Matsukawa added that agricultural businesses facing these indirect impacts could also apply for an emergency loan.

“We would also be considering if they had lost income due to lack of markets and everything, due to the fires,” he said. “We’d also be providing funds so that they can sustain their operation until the tourism comes back.”

The emergency loan parameters are as follows:

• Applicants can apply for up to $350,000 loans, at a 3 percent interest rate;

• Terms of the loans are to be determined on a case-by-case basis;

• Consideration will be based on historical farm performance and projected cash flow based on reasonable assumption of review and expenses;

• The requirement for credit denials has been waived, as has the three-year residency requirement;

• Collateral requirements may be modified or waived on a case-by-case basis.

Impacted agricultural operations interested in applying for an emergency loan should contact the Agricultural Loan Program on O‘ahu at 808-973-9458.

Loan applicants must provide estimates of losses, and are advised to document the damage with photos. Applications may be submitted until Feb. 29, 2024.

For agribusinesses needing loans of $50,000 or less, micro-loans involving less paperwork and swifter processing are also available at either 808-973-9458 or hdoa.agloan@hawaii.gov.

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Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-4966 or jhealy@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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