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Hawai‘i Congressional Delegation Urges USDA to Provide COVID-19 Relief Funding to Aid Hawaii’s Mac Nut, Pineapple, Coffee, Specialty Crop Farmers

Washington, May 26, 2020
Tags: Economy

HONOLULU – U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) and U.S. Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawai‘i) and Ed Case (D-Hawai‘i) called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to include Hawai‘i’s unique specialty crops and help Hawai‘i farmers.

“The severe economic impacts from the pandemic have left Hawai‘i’s farmers in dire need of financial assistance to remain in production, and we request your leadership and assistance in providing them much needed immediate relief,” the delegation wrote in their letter to Secretary Sonny Perdue.

The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which was funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, provides financial assistance to farmers who are struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While some specialty crops are immediately eligible under the program, the vast majority of specialty crops in Hawai‘i, including macadamia nuts, coffee, bananas, and pineapples, are not, and will instead have to undergo an administrative process to determine their eligibility. Specialty crops make up 70 percent of Hawai‘i’s top agricultural commodities.

The full text of the letter is below and available here:


Dear Secretary Perdue:

We are extremely concerned with the list of specialty crops announced on May 19, 2020 as eligible for assistance under the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). With specialty crops making up 70 percent of Hawai‘i’s top agricultural commodities, those producers are amongst the hardest hit by the pandemic. Yet, USDA’s list fails to include the majority of our state’s specialty crops. Hawai‘i’s farmers need immediate relief, and we request that you expand eligibility to include specialty crops that make up our top twenty agricultural commodities. We urge you to also work with Farm Service Agency personnel in Hawai‘i to recognize all specialty crops produced in our state as soon as possible.

The majority of Hawai‘i’s farms are diversified with specialty crops. Our state leads the U.S. in acres producing macadamia nut, papaya, passion fruit, taro, bananas, coffee, pineapple, and ginger root—and yet, from that list only papaya and taro are on the USDA’s current list for relief. The most recent statistics for Hawai‘i’s top agricultural commodities from the National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) underscore this concern:


Value of Production

Crop Status

Seed Crops



Macadamia Nuts









Other Aquaculture






Landscape Plant Material















Palms, potted



Plant Rentals



Dendrobiums, potted



Sweet Potatoes









Dry Onions



Cabbage, Chinese



Ginger Root



While a handful of specialty crops from this list are currently on the USDA’s list of specialty crops immediately eligible for relief under CFAP, the specialty crops that are currently omitted leave a large number of Hawai‘i’s farmers either waiting and hoping to be included in the list of eligible specialty crops, or in the same category as wheat, soy, corn, and other row crops.

Furthermore, crops currently left off the list, like bananas and ginger, are locally consumed and contribute to our food security. Failing to provide these producers with relief may force them to pivot to export crops and decrease our local food production. We appreciate that USDA is working to gather information from industries to assess the possibility of including additional specialty crops as eligible at a later date. However, impacts to farmers in Hawai‘i began months ago and timing of assistance is critical to keep our farmers in production.

Hawai‘i’s economy has been exceptionally hard hit during the pandemic because of the state’s dependence on the hospitality industry and visitor spending. The University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization (UHERO) projected real visitor spending to decline by 17 percent in the second quarter, but the actual impacts could easily exceed the forecast. For example, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported that visitor arrivals and associated visitor spending were down nearly 54 percent and 52 percent, respectively, from March last year.

The pandemic has had severe impacts on the state’s agricultural producers, but it is difficult to provide definitive statistics at this time. On April 27, UHERO published data from a survey of 623 businesses statewide, and reported the following figures for agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting: a 21 percent loss in agricultural jobs from January to April of this year, causing a 17 percent loss in revenue. According to the Hawai‘i Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, to date over 238,000 unemployment claims, representing roughly 34 percent of the total workforce, have been filed since March 1.

The severe economic impacts from the pandemic have left Hawai‘i’s farmers in dire need of financial assistance to remain in production, and we request your leadership and assistance in providing them much needed immediate relief.


Brian Schatz
United States Senator

Mazie K. Hirono
United States Senator

Tulsi Gabbard
Member of Congress

Ed Case 
Member of Congress

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