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Minutes 6/29/18 Board of Directors

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Minutes of the Emergency Board Meeting HPIA

June 29, 2018 at Calavo office on 16-664 Milo St, Keaau


Call to order at 2:30 pm


Board Members present: Eric W, Peter H, Toshi A, Ken O, Ross S.

Guests: Sharon Wages, Kelvin Sewake, Chris Wengler, Jon Suzuki


Eric gave quick report on lava flow impact to papaya industry. A meeting was held last Friday June 22 at PBARC for papaya farmers displaced from lava. Scott Enright (HDOA chair) Lester Ueda (USDA farm service agency), Diane Ley (County R&D), Sharon Wages (CTHAR)Lorie Farrel and Gregor Ilagan ( Farm Bureau and Farmers and Ranchers United), Oliver English (WH Shipman) attended as well as 25 displaced papaya farmers. Weston Yap (HDOA) sent us a spreadsheet with 32 displaced papaya farmers with 953 acres affected needing help and land immediately to replant. The triangle bounded by highways 130, 132 and 137 was run over by lava or is no longer accessible. This represents about 40% of papaya lands in Puna. The lands north of highway 132 are threatened by the lava flow although many papaya farms are located there now, representing another 30% of available papaya lands. Keaau is unaffected and the likely target area for the immediate future of the papaya industry and area where displaced farmers in Pahoa are likely to be able to replant. The latest State statistics available indicated there were 1700 acres of papaya producing acres in Puna, meaning that the industry had 2550 acres planted in papaya with another 2550 acres fallowed and needed for future plantings, totaling 5100 acres.


Eric stated he wears two hats, one as manager for Calavo and the other as President of HPIA. He wants everything out on the table, transparent, to avoid any conflict of interest. The HPIA request and disaster assistance has to be fair to all and available to all papaya farmers, even those who are not HPIA members and have not supported HPIA over the years. The Board expressed strong unanimous support for items 1 through 4 below.

The HPIA will present these proposals to the Farm Bureau and work as a single unified agricultural community to seek disaster relief from the various agencies. Eric reported what he has been requesting on behalf of the HPIA for help to recover from the disaster:

  1. Unemployment insurance for those farmers who lost income and are working to replant fields. Unemployment for self-employed papaya farmers is available from the State for 26 weeks under a special program from FEMA when President Trump signed the disaster declaration. Farmers do not half to apply for other employment. We are asking if this could be extended for another 26 weeks, the time needed from planting until first fruit harvest.
  2. NAP payments from USDA Farm Services. For those who were insured payments for losses should come soon. For those not insured, retroactive payments will be available after October. This is because Senator Hirono was able to add language to the farm bill, which is expected to pass soon, but won’t be effective until then. Payments are for any lands destroyed or made inaccessible from the lava, by the acre for plants 9 months old or more. Growers won’t be made whole. Payments are better if one can prove past income and yield records, and lower based on average County number for those who do not have those records. All growers experiencing losses are encouraged to report these to the Farm Service Agency asap.
  3. The HDOA has announced low interest loans where repayment won’t be required until after the fields are producing. The loan cap on quick loans is $125,000. The State legislature must increase total amount of funds in the pool to accommodate anticipated loan requests. This is something the HPIA needs to actively support.
  4. Land availability and preparation is our main need for recovery, even for papaya companies who did not lose fields to lava. There is only so much land for all papaya farmers. Typically there is three-year fallow period for papaya rotation, and if existing farmers don’t have fallow land on which to replant they will not be able to replant and be forced out of business. Most of the land suitable for papaya is currently under papaya lease. Other lands that would be suitable for papaya are too expensive to prepare for papaya and would include lands with albizia trees or rough low lands. We are seeking funds to cover the added costs of land clearing and land preparation above our normal land preparation costs (typically no more than $1,000 per acre).


Our best hope is from an emergency session of the Hawaii State Legislature scheduled for August 2018. State Senate Ag Committee Chair Mike Gabbard toured these areas last week and is supportive of our request. The land preparation costs vary depending on the density and age of albizia forests and the roughness of the lower elevation lands. They could be as little as $3,000 per acre and as much as $20,000 per acre. Using the high side number of $20K / acre for 300 acres would be $6 million.


Rainbow seed production is a bottleneck. Currently our only seed producer is only making a third of industry needs and the industry is backordered until January of 2019 not withstanding the current lava demand. Current production is one pound of seed per week or 16 acres of papaya plantings per month or 192 acres per year. The HPIA has been short seed since March of 2017. What the industry needs is a stable, reliable source of virus protected seed in a quantity to satisfy industry demand.

To that end:

Ross S moved and Peter H seconded to support PBARC efforts to ramp up the sex identification of virus-protected seedlings in the laboratory. This motion carried unanimously. By identifying sex of seedling, only a single hermaphrodite plant would be required for field planting, thereby extending the acreage that our limited seed supply would be able to plant. Jon Suzuki reported that PBARC has been successful and is now looking to ramp up the volume and work out the methodology of that system.

Eric W moved and Peter H seconded to have HPIA support efforts to work with a private seed company on another Hawaiian island to develop a proposal for seed production. The motion carried unanimously. Eric reported that this concept has the support of Dennis Gonsalves, HARC and Ken Kamiya, all thinking diversifying location and working with a company that had experience with seed production was a good idea.

Ross S stated that he wanted to plant a seed production field in East Hawaii Island that was capable of making 400 acres worth of Rainbow seed. Eric W stated that with PBARC advise and recommendations his company had begun a small rainbow seed production field in order to learn more about the process. This prompted a discussion of the merits of allowing multiple entities produce Rainbow seeds and sell them as they saw fit, letting market forces dictate price and supply. There was unanimous support for this concept from those remaining in the Board meeting (some board members had to leave early and there was no longer a quorum). The board will work with Sharon Matsumoto Wages to develop a methodology and training program for those interested in producing Rainbow seed that HPIA can then use to authorized producers. The idea is to insure that the virus protection and quality of the Rainbow variety remains intact into the future.

Given that there are more non-virus protected plantings in Puna due to the Rainbow seed shortage, Eric asked CTHAR and Sharon to hold an educational workshop for papaya farmers for early identification of PRV. This would include slides for identification, rouging protocol, and best methods / chemicals for controlling PRV vectors. Ross said although PRV pressure was low in Keaau, it is still present. He said it is more of a problem during winter months. Ken O suggested some effective chemicals and stated he is wiling to work with Sharon on the educational workshop. Sharon said that there was a non-virus protected variety called “Hamasaki” that is being grown on the Hamakua Coast and marketed as organic in Waimea at good prices. Her suggestion was to investigate this as a variety that might have potential for the deep soil land north of Hilo, because the Rainbow variety has been reported to not perform as well in deep soils. Eric reported that the funding from the County through Council person O’hara was held up by the County of Hawaii R&D who insisted that the proposal monies must be used material for “pig traps” rather that “pig control” where the board voted at last meeting to fence our rainbow seed production field that has been repeatedly damaged by pigs, further exacerbating our seed shortage.


Eric reported that we now have control of our website and can edit our site ourselves. We put up the recipe for our corresponding advertisement in West Jet in flight magazine on our site. However, further additions to the site will require hiring someone experienced in WordPress. Lorie Farrel offered that she has experience with using WordPress. Many things are now possible including adding pages to keep farmers affected by lava informed as to our recovery efforts and benefits available to them.


The West Jet contest was extremely successful HPIA now has the email contacts for over 1,000 contest entrants in Canada interested in Hawaii papaya. The fedex charges were just under $600 each month for two months. Calavo donated the papaya to the winners. The ad has now been changed from a contest, to a “bowl fruit” recipe.


The meeting adjourned at 5:45 pm.