HONOLULU — Governor Josh Green on Wednesday signed several agricultural bills into law, ranging from expanding land leases to protecting crops against invasive species.
Green stressed the importance of strengthening Hawai‘i’s agricultural sector to lessen the need for imports, which he said currently account for about 85 percent of the state’s food consumption.
“We’re vulnerable when we’re not food secure, it’s evident,” Green said. “We have to infuse our industry with resources for water. We have to make sure that we can expand this sector. We never go far enough, in my opinion, but this is a start — this is a commitment.”
Among the bills signed was House Bill 307, focused on allowing farmers on state lands to expand their farmlands. The bill allows the state Department of Agriculture to extend agricultural park leases for any lessee with a lease set to expire within 15 years, if the lease covers 25 acres or less and is located in a county with a population below 500,000.
“These farmers on state land are successful farmers. However, their leases are coming up,” said Brian Miyamoto, executive director of the Hawai‘i Farm Bureau. “So as much as we support new farmers coming onto ag land, not at the expense of those farmers who have track records who are successful — some who have found a succession plan, either their families or others, who continue on successful operations to produce the food, the feed, the fiber, the fuel and the flora culture that we all want to see in Hawai‘i.”
Green also signed into law Senate Bill 1552, which provides $500,000 to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources in an effort to mitigate the impacts of invasive little fire ants, which can damage crops and sting humans.
“I have to tell you, I got bit by a fire ant on the butt one time and couldn’t sit down for two weeks in Hilo, so that’s a very good bill,” Green joked.
Additionally, Green signed Senate Bill 1588, which grants the state Department of Agriculture $1 million to establish a food safety training and certification program that would allow smaller farms to more affordably attain Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification.
“The need for food safety education and compliance is critical to help keep Hawai‘i’s residents and visitors safe from foodborne illness,” said state Sen. Mike Gabbard, a Democrat who is chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Development.
Green signed House Bill 692 as well, which increases penalties for illegal pesticide use. Commercial applicators, retailers and distributors who knowingly violate pesticide laws can be fined up to $35,000 and be imprisoned for up to one year. Violators can also be charged an administrative penalty of up to $10,000 for each offense.
“I worked with the Department of Ag very closely to make sure that we increase the fines to go after repeat offenders who think that they can pollute our communities without any consequence,” said state Rep. Cedric Gates, a Democrat who is chair of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food Systems. “And so, I’m very excited that this bill is now being signed into law.”
Gates also thanked Green for not vetoing Senate Bill 1359, which amends restrictions on hemp production to reduce costs for both the state and farmers, and establishes a statewide hemp task force to oversee Hawai‘i’s hemp industry.
While hemp does not contain enough THC — the psychoactive component in cannabis — to be psychoactive itself, the crop can be used in over 50,000 ways, including clothmaking, bioplastics and fuel. Additionally, the Hawai‘i hemp cannabinoid and cannabidiol (CBD) market is estimated to be between $32 million and $54 million annually, according to the bill.
Despite never signing the bill, Green’s decision to not veto SB 1359 effectively allows it to pass into law.
“It’s a bill that we really worked on this year to help our hemp industry expand and help the industry grow to the point where we can really start pushing these different products into international markets and across our nation,” Gates said.
While Green noted that increasing the state’s agricultural sector would increase Hawai‘i’s food security, he also emphasized that increased agricultural revenue could help the state’s economy wean off of tourism as its core contributor.
“We have to diversify our economy using agriculture as that mechanism,” he said. “That extra leg of the economy is important to us, so I’m so grateful that we’re beginning to make things more possible.”
Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-4966 or email@example.com.
Source: The Garden Island