USDA Secretary Pledges Support for Hawaii Agriculture Programs

Posted on May 1, 2014 in Main, News-Releases

May 1, 2014

HONOLULU — U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack has sent a letter to
Gov. Abercrombie expressing his strong support of agricultural projects in Hawaii that will drive economic growth, self-sufficiency and innovation in rural Hawaii communities. In the letter dated April 29, 2014, Sec. Vilsack committed staff of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish a partnership with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) to create and advance a variety of programs that will grow agriculture in the state.

“We are very pleased by Secretary Vilsack’s sincere commitment to Hawaii agriculture,” said Gov. Abercrombie. “This strengthening of the partnership between USDA and state agriculture staff will provide a significant boost to many ag-related programs and help to expedite our activities and accomplishments.”

Sec. Vilsack has designated USDA’s Farm Services Agency, State Executive Director, Diane Ley, to serve as convener of the partnership which will assist the state in identifying federal, state and private resource opportunities and sources of technical assistance; support new, minority and military veteran farmers; increasing the state’s food and energy security; and developing markets for locally grown produce.

“There are many agricultural programs that we are hoping to establish that will benefit from closer collaboration with our federal partners,” said Scott Enright, chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture. “They include, creating a stronger labor force, maintaining and developing new ag infrastructure, increasing energy efficiency and developing new energy industries.”

Some of the new agricultural initiatives include:

  • Waimea Nui Rural Community Agricultural Complex (Hawaii Island) – An integrated set of facilities including an anaerobic digester, post-harvest processing plant, commercial kitchen, community agricultural park, ag education offices and farmers market. Includes expansion of the “Veterans to Farmer” and “Farming for the Working Class” program that trains new farmers. The project goal is to triple the produce output of the region, creating low-cost fresh food for the community. Governor’s budget requested and the Legislature approved $3.5 million in general obligation bonds this legislative session.
  • Kulani Correctional Facility Agricultural Complex – A program similar to Waimea Nui, with the goal of transitioning inmates with training, experience and resources to begin careers in the agricultural industry. Data indicates inmates who complete the program have a 40 percent lower recidivism rate, with the impact even higher among the Native Hawaiian population. The facility is set to open in June 2014 and the Public Safety Department has secured 492 acres for the agricultural training program.
  • Molokai Veteran to Farmer Program – Expanding on a successful pilot project in Waimea, The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations is working the University of Hawaii to establish college credits for the Veteran to Farmer Program and provide this training on Molokai. The project goal is to establish 15 more farms on Molokai by 2015.
  •  North Hawaii Island Agricultural Water Capacity Improvements – North Hawaii has vast acres of available ag land suited for both produce and bioenergy crops. Aging sugar cane water systems are in disrepair. Restoring water supply to the region will enable the land to once again be productive in agriculture and ranching, as well as biomass for energy.
  • Molokai Irrigation System Hydroelectric Project – The Molokai Irrigation System (MIS) is the main water source for the majority of farmers on the island. A major expense of the system is energy costs. To offset the energy costs, plans are being developed for a micro hydro-electric system that would generate energy to run the system and lower the cost of water to the 240 users of the system.

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Letter from Sec. Vilsack