Case Speaks before Appropriations Committee on Hawai'i Agriculture Priorities
Washington, May 18, 2021, May 18, 2021
"While COVID-19 assistance from the USDA and SBA has been a vital lifeline for our farmers, we must continue to invest in domestic agriculture to help our agricultural producers bounce back and thrive."
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member and members of the Subcommittee, mahalo for the opportunity to testify before you today on critical needs for Hawaii’i agriculture.
Hawai’i has been blessed with some of the most productive and diverse agriculture in the world throughout our history. From ancient taro through a century and a half of sugar and pineapple and into today’s high value macadamia nut, coffee and tropical fruit and flower crops as well as ranching. Hawai‘i agriculture has remained vibrant, a primary economic driver and the foundation of our rural communities.
Yet Hawai’i agriculture has its own challenges which require federal attention. For starters, invasive species, a major issue throughout our country, are especially acute in Hawai’i where, because of our isolation and unique ecosystems, they have especially devastating effects requiring extraordinary prevention and mitigation actions, and the pace of new introductions and damage is accelerating. It is estimated that, in just the past 15 years, 195 new invasive species have been introduced to Hawai‘i.
This Subcommittee, Committee and Congress has supported a range of federal invasive species programs that has materially helped address invasives in Hawai‘i like fruit flies, coffee berry borer, macadamia felted coccid, avocado lace bug, little red fire ant and two-lined spittle bug. Furthermore, increased funding for the Agricultural Quarantine Program has provided a critical first line of defense that prevents these additional invasives from reaching the continental United States. I ask this Subcommittee to continue and enhance these programs.
However, there is a vital need for new funding for a new, particularly threatening invasive: coffee leaf rust. In October 2020, coffee leaf rust was discovered on coffee plants on Maui Island and has since spread to most of the Hawaiian Islands. Unmanaged or ill-managed farms can experience yield losses greater than 70 percent and lead to tree mortality. This has the potential to wipe out the Hawai‘i coffee industry, which is one of the state’s most significant agricultural exports valued at more than $148.4 million when converted to roasted products.
While USDA’s efforts to control the spread of coffee leaf rust in Hawai‘i have been a necessary band-aid, longer-term Agricultural Research Service funding for research into resistant varieties and management tools is critical for the viability of this iconic Hawai‘i industry.
In addition, I ask for this Subcommittee’s continued support of Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions, whose funding has generally remained stagnant. In addition to 4-H and Future Famers of America, grant programs for Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions help schools like the University of Hawai‘i train the next generation of agricultural leaders from our indigenous communities. This is desperately needed in Hawai‘i, where the average age of a farmer is 60 years old.
I lastly want to urge the Subcommittee’s continued support for specialty crops, especially tropical and subtropical crops. The tropical regions of the world are estimated to contain half of the species on earth and have numerous opportunities for expansion. The tropical crops that we all love, like cacao, guava, mango and taro, are being produced domestically in greater quantities but can’t receive research funding like other crops. They are hampered by limited local resources and limited access to national resources, and by a continued bias in our national policy and support toward the larger traditional crops.
Tropical and Subtropical Research has been listed as a high-priority research and extension area, but it appears the National Institute of Food and Agriculture has lacked targeted funding to implement a Tropical and Subtropical Research Program as it has for other high-priority areas. Given more exacerbated threats from climate change and increased risks from invasive species in these climates, tropical and subtropical research is more needed than ever. Targeted research funding in the space would help the small and minority farmers that drive this industry.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and especially its effect on the tourism and hospitality industry, have affected most industries in Hawai‘i, including our farmers who market extensively to both residents and visitors. While COVID-19 assistance from the USDA and SBA has been a vital lifeline for our farmers, we must continue to invest in domestic agriculture to help our agricultural producers bounce back and thrive.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify before you today and for your careful consideration of the needs of Hawai‘i agriculture. Mahalo.