Agriculture can become a major Hawaii industry again: university report

(FILE) Between the 1890s and 1990s, the sugar cane in the Ewa Plains of West Oahu played a pivotal role in shaping Hawaii’s economy, satisfying the market’s demand for all things sweet on a global scale. (Photo by Des Acenas)

HONOLULU (Eagle News) – In their latest brief, “The agricultural economic landscape in Hawaii and the potential for future economic viability,” experts from the University of Hawaii’s Economic Research Organization (UHERO) believe that, despite challenges, it is possible for commodities like pineapple and sugar to be revived as major economic drivers.  They elaborate on the challenges to include the following:

Lack of mechanization

At present, Hawaii’s agriculture industry does not utilize machines to perform duties as much as more productive agricultural areas on the U.S. mainland, resulting in unusually high labor costs and associated low labor productivity.

Researchers say the lack of mechanization is due to “the relatively small scale and unique geography of Hawaii’s agricultural land, which consists of smaller and more fragmented fields that can be rockier and more steeply sloped.”  UHERO recommends the use of using emerging technology, such as artificial intelligence and robots, which may favor smaller-scale mechanization.

Data challenges

Agriculture data is limited and error-prone, making it difficult to detect emerging trends in Hawaii‘s agriculture industry, according to UHERO.

“Some standard metrics, like average farm size, can be especially misleading due to the way farms are defined, the manner in which data are collected, and how both definitions and sampling change over time,” UHERO stated.  “Improved data collection may shed clearer light on challenges and prospects for Hawaii agriculture.”

In addition, the economic value of Hawaii’s agricultural production has declined much more than the state’s physical production of agricultural goods, because consumer prices have skyrocketed at a higher rate than wholesale agricultural prices.

Still, UHERO is optimistic as the state has more idle cropland than harvested cropland, which presents an economic opportunity.  They recommend utilizing these areas to capitalize on Hawaii’s rich soils and ideal climate to increase the productivity of high-value crops such as fruits and vegetables.

(Alfred Acenas, EBC Hawaii-Pacific Bureau, Eagle News Service)