Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Agriculture Update 2/8/12

Today, the Committee on Agriculture adopted several measures aimed at easing the burden on small farmers and bolstering the agriculture industry statewide.

The issue of funding for plant quarantine inspectors and support staff is critical to the agriculture industry as a whole; inadequate inspection leads to grave consequences, especially for neighbor islands. Rep. McKelvey (Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kapalua, Maalaea, Kihei) pointed out that a lack of funding may close Maui's airport inspection facility, crippling the local economy. The Committee unanimously passed HB1940, which would provide $2.4 million to fund 38 inspectors and 3 support staff positions statewide.

For decades, farmers have been struggling with the building permit process. Two bills intending to address the problem, HB1949 and HB2424, were heard by the Committee today. The bills were nearly identical and would allow farmers to build structures without requiring a county permit. HB2424 ended up being adopted and advances to be heard by the Committee on Water, Land, & Ocean Resources.

The state grades agricultural land from “A” very good to “E” not suitable. The land's grade is a key factor in determining what purpose it may be used for. During the hearing, Rep. McKelvey asked the DoA when the last time the Department graded Agricultural land in the state was. The answer: 1972. A lot can happen over the course of four decades. Rep. McKelvey went on to cite several properties that are still classified as grade "A" agricultural land, despite no longer having any water supply or infrastructure. You can expect to hear more regarding a reevaluation of land grades in the near future.

HB1948 was heard last Friday, but decision making was deferred until today. The bill, which received overwhelming support from the community, as well as state agencies, will strengthen existing laws regarding agricultural theft. The Committee unanimously adopted the measure and it will advance to the Committee on Judiciary.

Chair Tsuji announced that there is new language proposed for HB1947, so the bill will be heard again on Friday, February 10th. HB1947 proposed HD1 requires the Department of Agriculture to establish an agricultural safety and security program. Testimony should be based on the Proposed HD1. Friday's hearing announcement can be viewed here.

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