HONOLULU — The number of acres under cultivation at farms in Hawaii has increased for the first time in at least three decades, new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show.
Hawaii farmers put 8,000 more acres into production between 2007 and 2012. The gain is relatively small, but it is significant given that 180,000 acres were lost during the previous five-year period.
Hawaii’s farmed land area has declined by about 800,000 acres since 1982.
Mark Hudson, a statistician for the state Department of Agriculture, said the census shows that farming in Hawaii was healthy during the five-year period, which included the recession, rising production costs and pressure from urban growth.
“Farmers are very innovative,” he said. “They are under tremendous pressure.”
Souk Hoang of Pit Farm in Mililani echoed that sentiment Sunday while he was out selling his produce at the Mililani Farmers’ Market. Hoang, a former Panda Travel accountant who has been farming on about 5 acres for the past decade or so, said he tries to keep his customers loyal by fulfilling special requests for produce.
“If I can get the seed, I’ll grow for them,” he said.
Ken Milner of the North Shore Produce Value Wagon said it’s hard to make a living as a small farmer. Passion, he said, is what has kept him going.
“I haven’t made any money farming … haven’t saved any money,” said Milner, who worked as a commercial diver when he first got into farming as a hobby 20 years ago.
“I think that farming’s a commitment you make. It starts off when you grow your plants, so you’re committed to growing the plants through the cycle … and so it’s an ongoing relationship you have, being responsible for what you started,” he said.
About 40 percent of Hawaii’s 7,000 farms earned less than $5,000 in sales in 2012. There were 585 farms that earned more than $100,000, including 21 that earned more than $5 million.
The new growth occurred largely on Oahu, where about 8,700 additional acres were farmed. There also were increases on Maui and the Big Island, which each gained about 3,000 acres of farmed land. Kauai suffered a loss of 7,400 acres.
Overall, about 1.129 million acres were being farmed in Hawaii in 2012, up from about 1.121 million acres five years earlier.