Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How Much Agricultural Land Does Hawaii Need?

In, Proposals aim to sustain agriculture, the Honolulu Advertiser reports that “[o]verall, Hawai'i has lost roughly 50,000 acres of farmland since 1978” and the “state currently has about 1.3 million acres of farmland.”

What the article does not report is that according to the most recent numbers in the Hawaii Data Book, there is a total of 4,112,388 acres of land in the State of Hawaii, of which, 47.99% is designated for Conservation, 46.94% is designated for Agricultural, 4.81% is designated for Urban, and 0.26% is designated for Rural. Of the total acreage in Agriculture reported by the Advertiser and in the Hawaii Data Book, not all of the land is actively farmed because of an over supply of land after the fall of Hawaii's large plantations.

Here are some questions that need to be asked and addressed:
  • How much agricultural land does Hawaii need to sustain itself?
  • Nearly half the state is classified as agricultural, but how much of that land is actually farmed since the fall of the big plantations in Hawaii?
  • Is there an unmet demand for diversified agriculture?
  • Is farming in Hawaii economically feasible?
  • Will keeping almost half of Hawaii in Agriculture stimulate creation of the kinds of jobs that will stem Hawaii’s brain drain or entice Generation X, et al., back to Hawaii?
  • When nearly half of Hawaii was classified as Agricultural, much of the land was not suitable for farming as rated by, for example, the Land Study Bureau, the US Geological Survey, and the University of Hawaii. Is it wise to keep those lands classified as Agricultural?
  • Given Hawaii’s unmet housing demand by young professionals, blue collar workers, and the shortage of industrial space, would it be better to have a more balanced land use policy instead of one that has nearly 95 percent of Hawaii’s lands kept from development (the supply of land and burdensome regulations being the primary contributors to housing costs as I discussed here)?
Policymakers are faced with a tenuous balancing act as they move forward with agricultural measures during this legislative session. Their decisions will have both short-term and long-term implications for the vitality of Hawaii.


Keoua said...

On Kaua`i a significant amount of ag. land is not used for farming because it is being lived on by wealthy folks, most often from somewehe else, who have helped drive up the price of ag. land to the point where no one wishing to farm could possibly afford it. It seems to me that some, small amount of ag land should be re-disticted urban for residential--not ag. subdivisions--and ag land should be saved for ag., if/when we need it, and no housing should be allowed on it!! Keoua

Aaron Stene said...

I really believe a balanced approach needs to come into play here. Yes Hawaii’s important agriculture lands need to be protected. So we are less dependant on imported food.

But on the flip side, I don’t think it is fair that every single spec of agriculture land should remain in the agriculture district. One of the reasons for Hawaii’s high cost of housing is the fact too much land is banked into the agriculture district. On the Big Island alone, there is over 1 million land classified as agriculture.

Please don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating paving over all lands in the agricultural district. All I’m saying is open up the lands that have minimal agricultural value to development and identify/protect all important agricultural lands. The latter process has already stated with the passing of Act 183 by the legislature in 2005.

Pearl Johnson said...

Saying we have millions of acres of agricultural land is extremely misleading. Most of those acres cannot be farmed. Oahu has only about 3,000 acres of prime farmland, of which 1550 acres are now being considered for urban use for a development called Hoopili. The 3,000 acre figure comes from a University of Hawaii professor.