AGRICULTURE, RURAL DEVELOPMENT, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2010 -- (Extensions of Remarks - July 09, 2009)
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Ms. HIRONO. Mr. Chair, I rise in strong support of H.R. 2997, the FY2010 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which makes important investments in agricultural research; conservation, rural development, and nutrition programs; as well as a number of other programs that support agriculture and rural communities in our nation.
I am very grateful to the Committee, and especially to Chair Rosa DeLauro, for support of many of my high-priority requests and for recognizing the special challenges faced by Hawaii farmers.
Yesterday as we were getting ready to begin debate, I was surprised to learn that another member had filed an amendment to eliminate funding for one of my Hawaii requests included in the final bill. The amendment would have eliminated a $153,000 earmark, titled Agricultural Diversification in Hawaii, to assist Hawaii farmers succeed in growing and marketing new crops to replace sugarcane and pineapple. It was a bit disappointing because the amendment was drafted by a member from Texas, a state that enjoys far more substantial federal support for its farmers in the form of direct payments and other agricultural services than Hawaii.
Ultimately, the member from Texas decided not to offer his amendment. If he had, I would have offered the following defense for this important program.
Hawaii is the most geographically isolated state.
Hawaii imports 85 percent of the food consumed by residents and visitors and is estimated to have a 4-7 day food supply in the event of a shipping disruption of any kind.
Our major agricultural industries of sugar and pineapple production have declined precipitously in the last 15 years. Of our last two sugar companies, one announced it was going out of business last year. Our longstanding leaders in pineapple production have moved their fruit production operations out of the state. As a result, Hawaii has been making a difficult transition from plantation to diversified agriculture.
Increased food production for local and export markets is a key component to addressing food security in Hawaii.
Most of the research done in mainland university and research institutions does not have much relevance in Hawaii. We grow different crops and have a year-round growing season, which means year-round pest and disease issues.
There are no large national agricultural organizations to lobby for the interests of papaya, pineapple, banana, or coffee farmers. Rice and cotton growers in Texas can find support from growers in other states who will make sure that their needs are understood and met.
The Hawaii Agricultural Diversification program has evolved over time from identifying alternative crops to replace sugarcane and pineapple, to assessments on aquaculture crops, to the current emphasis on tropical fruits.
The overall tropical fruit industry in Hawaii comprises nearly 1300 farmers who produce crops for tropical fruit markets with an annual farm gate value of more than $30 million.
Included in this agricultural industry are banana, guava, papaya, avocados, and wide range of tropical specialty fruits such as rambutan, lychee, and longan.
While the total acreage and the total number of farms increased in 2007, these growers are small farmers, averaging less than 5 acres per farm in production. These farmers have limited resources and do not have the means to conduct the R & D to support their industry. This funding provides means for stakeholder-driven research and development in support of the industry.
The main problems faced by Hawaii tropical fruit growers include pest management strategies, phytosanitary export protocols, and refined market information to guide production.
For example, two major Hawaii Tropical Specialty Fruits, rambutan and longan, are grown for export to the U.S. mainland but face stiff competition with foreign countries, such as from Thailand, where labor and other input costs are much lower. Research funds have been devoted to finding best management practices for post-harvest handling of rambutan and longan to identify the fungal diseases that damage fruit and accelerate spoilage during shipment. Research, done collaboratively with USDA Agricultural Research Service, has identified methods to extend rambutan and longan shelf-life and to maintain higher quality fruit during shipment, giving Hawaii growers a competitive advantage over cheap foreign competition.
Hawaii has an image of being a paradise. Hawaii is beautiful, but at the same time we are also very vulnerable to any downturn in the U.S. or international economies. Our biggest industry, tourism, has been hit hard by the recession. Our geographic isolation means that everything is more expensive, including inputs for agriculture.
My district, which includes all of Hawaii (7 inhabited islands) except for the city of Honolulu, is largely rural and most of our residents would like it to stay that way. We have a long agricultural tradition and history and are struggling to adjust to changing markets without the safety net that most states that grow program crops (like cotton, rice, and corn) enjoy. Despite the fact that Hawaii farmers are not able to take advantage of many of the programs that benefit mainland farmers, I have consistently supported farmers throughout the country and simply ask that my fellow members also support Hawaii's hard-working farmers.
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