Friday, February 3, 2012

Agriculture Update

Hawaii Farmers Union President Glenn Martinez testifies in favor of HB2667
Three bills were adopted by the Committee on Agriculture today, all of which were heard during a joint session with the Committee on Economic Revitalization & Business. Bills HB2151, HB2317, and HB2432 represent significant steps toward developing our agriculture industry by helping local farmers.

Introduced by Rep. Chang, HB2151 will allow farmers to sell products from their farms on their farms through the establishment of farm stands. HB2317, which was introduced by Rep. McKelvey, will repeal the prohibition against overnight accommodations as part of agricultural tourism activities on farms. These two bills will provide farmers with an opportunity to bring in much needed, additional revenue, revenue that may be the difference in staying in business or not.

An administration bill, HB2432, will exempt the purchase of fresh meats, produce, animals, and plants by the government from the Hawaii Public Procurement Code. This measure will enable school cafeterias to use local ingredients to feed our children, providing a boost to the local economy while increasing the nutritional value of school meals.

Many of the bills that were deferred received a great deal of attention and heated testimony. Introduced by Speaker Say, HB1827 included a 1 cent fee on each pound of green coffee beans grown in or imported into the state to support an effort to eradicate the coffee borer beetle as well as other provisions aimed at dealing with the potentially devastating threat posed by the insects. The bill was ultimately deferred, but money will be taken from the Barrel Tax to help fund a coffee borer beetle eradication program.

The Department of Agriculture and Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation joined together in strong opposition to HB2301 and HB2667, which were both deferred indefinitely by Chair Tsuji. HB2301, submitted by Rep. Carroll, closely mirrors HB2703 in setting a mandate to double the state's consumption of locally produced food by 2020. The DoA and HFBF agreed with the bill in theory, but opposed the prohibition measure in the bill. Their contention is that prohibiting landowners from reclassifying agricultural lands of 25 or more acres for non-agricultural purposes is not a suitable penalty if landowners fail to meet the goal of doubling our local food consumption from 10% to 20% in 7 years.

Introduced by Chair Tsuji, HB2667, would authorize the DoA to lease land under its jurisdiction to qualified farmers at a reduced rate for food production. Despite testifying several times before the Committee in favor of doubling our local food consumption, both the DoA and the HFBF, opposed this piece of legislation. Their testimony was critical of  HB2667 because it would discriminate against other forms of agriculture, which include GMO seed corn and biofuel crop production. DoA Chair Russell Kokubun went on to say that the Department "does not favor food production."

Another bill introduced by Chair Tsuji, HB1948, received unanimous support from the Committee and from testimony. The bill was deferred for decision making until February 8th to provide lawmakers time to finalize some of the language before adoption. The bill would strengthen laws concerning agricultural theft.

The next hearing for the Committee on Agriculture will be on Monday, February 6, at 11:15am in Conference Room 325 of the Capitol. The agenda can be found here.

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