Labor & Land Resources
By the year 2030, provide enough land in farms to support local agricultural, while allocating significant resources to support hired farm workers, ranch operators, and employ extension services across all islands.
photo credit: Trust for Public Land
Hawai‘i residents interest to increase food production locally has grown over the past decade, and many restaurants and grocers are responding to this demand by offering increased local products and preparations. In order to provide these products to local consumers, proper resources need to be in place, such as farm land for production, agricultural workers, water resources, and electricity to pump water to nourish crops. The Dashboard features trends on land and labor resources and the associated costs.
The trend of farmland in use in Hawai‘i is illustrated below by acreage. This shows a general downward trend in the last 15 years with a decrease of 22% of land in farms since 2000. The rise and fall of farmland may depend on changes in land ownership and use of land. In addition to knowing farm acreage, the number of farms is important to the local food production and consumption cycle as each farm may have a different owner and way of operating. The number of farms in Hawaii is based on farm definition of $1,000 or more of agricultural sales. The chart below compares the land in farms with the number of farms, revealing that while less land is being farmed, the number of farms is growing.
Figure 2. Type of land use in farms across the State for 2017. (Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Census 2017).
Prior to Western contact, Native Hawaiians supported a population of one million through systems-based land stewardship and food cultivation practices. Hawai‘i’s ancestral knowledge can guide the future of the local food system and opportunities for reinvestment in the land.
He aliʻi ka ʻāina; he kauā ke kanaka. The land is a chief; man is its servant.
I nā mālama 'oe i ka 'āina, na ka 'āina mālama iā 'oe. If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you.
Hawaiʻi’s agricultural footprint is evolving due to increased urbanization, land ownership, economic conditions, invasive species, and other factors. These are outlined in the Hawaiʻi State Department of Agriculture’s Hawaiʻi Agricultural Land Utilization Report released in 2015. This is an effort to provide comprehensive insight at the footprint of commercial agricultural land use statewide and to serve as a baseline to track progress on agricultural conditions in Hawaiʻi.
The Department of Agriculture’s Statewide Agricultural Land Use Baseline 2015 report shows the change in land use from pre-contact to present day including acreage per crop type.
Figures 5-8: Hawai‘i’s Agricultural Land Utilization at pre-contact (estimated), 1937, 1980, and 2015. (Source: Statewide Agricultural Land Use Baseline, 2015; Department of Agriculture)
In order to meet Hawai‘i’s goal of doubling local food production by 2030, it is important to build on Hawai‘i’s long history of agricultural innovation and abundance. A healthy and viable local food system is contingent on a skilled labor force of farmers and ranchers, as well as available land and water resources.
The production of locally grown and raised food in Hawai‘i faces multiple challenges due to Hawai‘i’s unique geographic location. Farms struggle to compete with national and international prices, since the cost of production is so much higher for an isolated island chain. Ranchers, for example, must either pay high land prices for livestock grazing or import animal feed. Because of these financial pressures on island, and due to better prices for livestock on the continental US, ranchers often export cattle to mainland for finishing. As seen with this example, the economic viability of farms in Hawai‘i is crucial for increasing local production.
Crop Summary by Island
Figures 9-14. Hawai‘i’s Crop Summary by Island in 2015 (Source: Statewide Agricultural Land Use Baseline, 2015; Department of Agriculture)
Further information on land use and crop production by island are detailed in the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture’s Statewide Agricultural Land Use Baseline 2015 report.
The next generation of farmers, ranchers and agricultural entrepreneurs are critical to meeting Hawai‘i’s 2030 local production goal. Farmers in Hawai‘i face similar challenges as those in other regions, including business economic viability and the difficulty of acquiring a living wage. These challenges can reduce interest in pursuing a career in farming. Education, farming training programs and community outreach can play a prominent role in securing a skilled workforce and shifting the social paradigm of the local agriculture profession. The number of operators has grown since the 1980s as farms transitioned from a single operator of a larger land (as in sugarcane or pineapple) to many smaller farms run by families.
Figure 15. Number of farming and ranching operators in Hawai‘i. The most recent dataset is from the 2017 Agricultural Census.
Farmers in Hawai‘i face similar challenges to farmers elsewhere, including acquiring a decent living wage from the occupation. The availability of farm workers is a key barrier to the success of local food production in Hawai‘i. To build awareness and interest in farming as a profession and community participation in food production, education and farming training programs could play a prominent role in shifting the social paradigm of local agriculture.
Agricultural Extension Agents
An extension agent is an employee that develops and delivers educational programs to assist in economic and community development. Extension agents serve the agricultural community through education and outreach to spread awareness about increasing crop production, erosion prevention, and pest management.
Figure 17: Map of location and Number of Agricultural Extension Agents Statewide.
Although it cannot be quantified for this dashboard, consumers producing their own food in backyard gardens, community gardens, and by hunting, gathering, or fishing will also assist Hawai‘i in importing less food. Fresh fruits and vegetables have more nutritional value than those that have travelled long distances, which is an added benefit of growing your own produce.
Traditional Hawaiian Fishponds: Loko I‘a
Loko i‘a, Hawaiian fishponds, are unique aquaculture systems that have existed throughout Hawai‘i for centuries. Loko i‘a are important components of the ahupua‘a (traditional land stewardship system) that spans from the mountains to the coral reefs, contribute to the local food system, and are an important community and cultural asset. According to the last statewide survey (DHM 1990), 488 fishpond sites were identified across the islands, though many are in very degraded conditions. There are communities and stewardship groups working to actively restore the integrity and productivity of loko i‘a across the state. Kua ‘Āina Ulu ‘Aumoa (KUA) facilitates Hui Mālama Loko I‘a, a network of fishponds, community practitioners, and other stakeholders.
Figure 18 (right): Kua ‘Āina Ulu ‘Aumoa (KUA) network partner fishponds across Hawai‘i.
Land and Water Access
Land and water access are also key barriers for local food growth. Land leases are available, but are typically short term or month-to-month, which does not allow enough security to the lessee to invest in mid- to long-term cultivation. Water rates vary greatly within the state, with lands in higher elevation paying more for water due to pumping costs. Alternative energy could provide a sustainable solution to reducing pumping prices. Water access is also a limiting factor, as historic agricultural irrigation systems are degrading and in need of capital to restore them for future use. Dam safety requirements are making it challenging to build new storage reservoirs. With changing climate and rainfall patterns, it is increasingly pressing to plan and invest in water sources for food production. Greenhouses, for example, are an excellent way to make efficient use of growing space for crops.
Figure 20: The longest drought period in Hawai'i lasted from 2008-2015, with the most severe drought conditions occurring in March of 2010. This graph shows the average monthly percent of the state not experiencing any drought conditions. Source: US Drought Monitor.
Investing in agricultural parks located in areas that could offer long-term land leases and reliable and affordable water supply could provide opportunities for more farms to develop, in addition to affordable housing for farmers.
Food production is inextricably linked with water and energy. Water irrigation is paramount to local farms, and generally pumped through an irrigation system powered by electricity. Therefore, both water and electricity are associated costs for crop production measured on this Dashboard.
Water Pricing for Agricultural Use
Water is a vital component to successful crop production, and it is a significant cost for farmers. Water prices are assigned as “rate schedules” based on type and amount of use.
Table 1 & 2: Rate schedules for water for agricultural use in Hawai‘i for 2012-2016 and 2019-2022. (Source: Board of Water Supply)
Hawai‘i has the highest electricity rates in the nation and the rates vary by county. Since Hawai‘i’s electricity is from petroleum and is shipped directly to O‘ahu, higher rates apply to neighbor islands due to additional shipping costs.
The chart below shows utilities expenses, as self-reported by 4,438 farms in the 2017 USDA NASS Census:
Figure 21: The figure above displays the total average cents/kWh of electricity in Hawai‘i statewide as of year 2017. (Source: Hawaiian Electric and Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC))
What You Can Do
- Student Organic Farming Training (SOFT) is a program that seeks undergraduate and graduate students who share common interests in growing food sustainably in an interactive learning environment. SOFT offers opportunities for skill building in sustainable agriculture.
- Take gardening classes to produce your own food, right in your backyard.
- Learn about grants, loans, and resources to help local farmers.
Learn More and Make A Difference
- Find United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service data specifically for Hawai‘i.
- Energy profile data estimates for Hawai‘i.
- Explore Go Farm Hawai‘i.
- University of Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) Farm Food Safety.
- Learn about how invasive species can impact farming practices. Invasive species possess the potential to destroy crops, toxify water, and spread disease. Therefore, it is useful to have metrics evaluating progress to contain many of these invasive organisms. Biosecurity is managed by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). Efforts and preventative strategies are reflected in a comprehensive Biosecurity Report to protect our local food and those who consume it. More information can be found on the Aloha+ Natural Resource Management goal.