Big Island farms hit hard by Iselle

Published On: Aug 13 2014 11:15:11 PM HST

Tropical Storm Iselle damaged more than just Big Island homes and communities, it also hit Hawaii farmers hard. Some growers could be reeling for years, while residents around the state could see some of the effects of this natural disaster.

At the Wednesday farmer's market in Honolulu, the Big Island papayas didn't last long. The fruit is popular for a good reason.

"They're delicious and easy to eat in the morning," said Honolulu resident Esther Chak.

Iselle's fury may interrupt the morning routine of many across the state.

Winds gusts over 60 mph blew through the Big Island and knocked down thousands of papaya trees. Many of those trees were full of fruit.

"We had some small farms of 5-10 acres that are 100 percent destroyed. There is nothing left. We have hundreds of farmers with their livelihood gone right now or at least severely diminished," said Lorie Farrell, with the Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United.

While the damage is still being added up, estimates are already over $50 million. The costs could double because farmers that survive this financial disaster will have to wait years for new trees to become productive -- after they find fresh fields for their papayas.

"It can't be at the same spot. Because the trees will rot and there will be all kinds of diseases with the rotting trees. So they need to move to a different area, clear the land and start from scratch," said Richard Ha, with Hamakua Springs Country Farms.
Because the Big Island supplies between 80-90 percent of the state's papayas, farmers say expect to see fewer fruit around.

"For a short while, there will be supply then it will get really short. It won't take very long before there won't be anything to ship. I shouldn't say there won't be anything, there won't be much at all," stated Ha.

While papaya growers as a whole took the biggest hit, Big island coffee, macadamia nut and ornamental flower were also battered by the storm.
Some large farms may have crop insurance, but a number of small farmers do not.

Papayas supplies may disappear for a short while, but there are fears many Big Island growers could be gone for good.

"We've got to figure out a way to help agriculture recover over the next few years. Because if we don't keep farmers in agriculture, if we just lose them, I don't know how agriculture can recover. It is not that easy to find new farmers," said Farrell.

The assessment of damage is expected to be finished Thursday night. Then it will be turned into State Civil Defense and FEMA, in the hopes farmers can get state or federal assistance as soon as possible.


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