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Study explores Hawaii’s organic farming industry

Other findings include:

Consumers who prefer food choices to be both certified organic and local are equally split between those who would choose local, non-organic versus those who would choose organic, non-local when both options are not available.

Hawaii past, current, and prospective organic producers indicate a strong desire for a local, independent organic certifier based in Hawaii.

The perceived — and real — financial and paperwork requirements associated with obtaining and maintaining organic certification are significant deterrents to farmers and producers obtaining and/ or maintaining certification.

As new food safety requirements and regulations go into effect, organic producers indicate a preference for a combined organic and food safety certification service, as well as a government cost-share program to defray costs.

There is ample demand for locally produced fertilizers and other input materials specially formulated for Hawaii’s unique environments to reduce importation/transport costs.

Education is needed to help non-certified producers and distributors understand the consequences of inaccurately promoting their products as "organic" and to comply with laws governing the use of the term.

Find the report online at http://kohalacenter.org/laulima/oiag/HiOrganicIndustry_FinalReport_2014.pdf

There are 57 issues inhibiting organic food production and distribution in Hawaii, and 93 potential opportunities and solutions to address them, according to a recent report.

The report, “Growing Organics: Moving Hawaii’s Organic Industry Forward,” surveyed Hawaii organic farmers, retailers, distributors and processors to determine what is missing and what is needed to support and grow the organic industry throughout the state.

The Kohala Center in Waimea spearheaded the project. The results are based on six public surveys issued in July 2013.

Betsy Cole, chief operating officer at TKC, said the Department of Agriculture asked the center to conduct the one-year feasibility study to see if there was a need for a centralized, organic industry hub.

Currently, organic agriculture producers in the state do not have a local organic program office where they can obtain information on infrastructure, production, processing, marketing, certification and business development.

“The group hoped that there would be an organization in the state that would represent industry interest and that it would be a cohesive organization to advocate and serve the organic industry,” Cole said. “And what that organization could and should do is outlined in the report.”

Among the recommendations listed in the report are that a staff position or program office should be established at the DOA to provide information, education, technical assistance, marketing support and explore offering organic certification services.

Another key element expressed in the report says there is a strong preference among Hawaii organic farmers and those contemplating organic certification for a local/independent organic certifier in Hawaii.

Colehour Bondera, a Big Island-based organic farmer and one of the members of the Organic Industry Advisory Group associated with the project, said he supports that idea.

“Realistically and honestly, as a farmer, it’s extremely difficult to deal with people and entities that don’t even understand what’s happening on the ground on Hawaii.

“Hawaii is very unique environment and unique place… For that reason, I resonate with the fact that inspections and certifications need to be Hawaii based.”

Franz Weber, vice president Hawaii Organic Farming Association on the Big Island, said the study exposes key issues relative to getting certified as an organic farmer in the state, and said the process should be made easier in order for the industry to improve.

“For a lot of people, certified organic means it has more quality and means you can sell it for a better price,” he said. “Getting certified organic, it’s almost a promotional thing.

“It’s trendy today and might be something that people recognize and are more inclined to buy.”

The study also discussed improving the process for certifying farms using Korean Natural Farming methods.

Michael DuPonte, Hawaii County extension livestock agent on the East side of the island and proponent of KNF, said he agrees with the recommendation.

“Then, at least we know the guys are doing it and the long-term hope would be to get a higher price because they’re not using any chemicals,” he said.

Other findings include, the significant growing demand for locally grown certified-organic produce and products in Hawaii greatly exceeds supply; inconsistent supply and quality of local, certified-organic produce are primary barriers to production, distribution and consumption; Hawaii consumers who prefer certified-organic food perceive its benefit to be better for their families’ health, to be free of synthetic pesticides and toxins and to be free of genetically modified organisms.

For a complete look at the report, visit kohalacenter.org.

The Kohala Center is a nonprofit organization based in Waimea.

The center conducts basic and applied research, policy research, conservation and restoration initiatives, public outreach and education in the core areas of food self-reliance, energy self-reliance, and ecosystem health — all carried out through local, regional, national and international partnerships.

According to the online document, a United States Department of Agriculture’s 2012 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program funded the study.

Email Megan Moseley at mmoseley@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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