Last year, two of the state’s anchor tenants in Kekaha, Kaua`i — seed companies Dupont Pioneer and Syngenta — together withdrew more than 1,500 acres from their licenses with the Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC). In August, Syngenta sought to abandon about 850 of its remaining 2,037 acres, but concerns about how the continued exodus would affect the management paradigm there led the ADC to defer the matter until Syngenta representatives could brief the board on the company’s future plans for the area.
Maintenance of the expansive irrigation system that feeds the ADC’s lands in Kekaha, the roads, and other infrastructure is carried out by the Kekaha Agriculture Association (KAA), a co-op composed of all of the ADC’s tenants in the area. The fees those tenants pay to the KAA support maintenance activities, so with fewer tenants, or with tenants occupying less land, the maintenance costs each tenant will have to shoulder increases.
“Whatever they [the seed companies] do reduces the amount of money KAA gets to maintain the property. … So, the small farmer comes in and wants to do ten acres, what is KAA going to be charging?” asked board member Sandi Kato-Klutke, who lives on Kaua`i.
“The maintenance costs are going to rise. That’s a given,” ADC executive director James Nakatani replied.
In the past, the ADC has agreed without contest to requests by the seed companies to release hundreds of acres of land. But at the ADC’s August meeting, board member Jeff Pearson asked whether Syngenta’s 20-year license included a penalty for early termination.
“We could just say no” to the withdrawal request, he suggested.
ADC staff said that all of its Kekaha licenses are the same and none of them include language regarding penalties for early termination. Even if they did, Nakatani said, the lands are subject to licenses, not leases that are recorded in the Bureau of Conveyances, suggesting that the ADC may not have as much leverage to enforce terms.
Still, the idea of penalties for early termination also occurred to Department of Agriculture director Scott Enright, since the withdrawal of so much land at once puts ADC in a quandary over how to keep the entire area viable. Until Syngenta can brief the board on its plans for Kaua`i, Enright said he thought the matter should be deferred.
Syngenta, which is about to be purchased by the China National Chemical Corporation (ChemChina), recently announced that it is looking to sell its Kaua`i and O`ahu operations. Enright noted also that Dow and Dupont are going to merge and seed company tenant BASF is also closing its Kekaha operations.
“The whole industry is in play. It would be timely to have a discussion with Syngenta,” he said.
Board member Denise Albano asked whether the lands to be returned to the ADC are farmable and whether there are farmers willing to take them on.
“On Kaua`i?” Nakatani asked.
Enright said that given the public testimony a couple of years ago on the county’s Bill 2491, which proposed additional regulation of pesticides and farmers growing genetically engineered crops, “as soon as Syngenta leaves, there’s going to be a horde of organic farmers. … I’m very anxious to catch up with the horde.”
“We won’t have a long line of organic farmers waiting for 846 acres,” Kato-Klutke said.
Without soil remediation, it’s unlikely organic farmers would want to jump on the property. For produce to be considered and labeled organic, land used to produce it must not have had “prohibited substances” — e.g., pesticides — applied to it in the past three years.
ADC staff said farmers have expressed interest in the vacant lands at Kekaha, but exact numbers were not available by press time. The agency planned to revisit Syngenta’s request on September 28 and consider the assignment of two of BASF’s licenses to seed company Beck’s Superior Hybrid Corporation, as well as the issuance of a license to Umi’s Farm, a produce farm.
“We’re losing our anchor tenants in Kekaha. … Getting [rents] from big tenants is much easier than getting it from small tenants,” Enright said. Even so, he stressed, “The more veg and fruit crop farmers we can get for ADC land, the easier my life will be.”
“Especially on Kaua’i,” added ADC staffer Ivan Kawamoto.
“Especially on Kaua’i,” Enright said.
Native Hawaiians File Complaint
Opposing Pesticide Use in Kekaha
On September 14, Earthjustice filed a complaint on behalf of The Moms On a Mission (MOM) Hui and Pō‘ai Wai Ola/West Kaua‘i Watershed Alliance calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate potential violations by the state DOA and ADC of native Hawaiian civil rights.
A press release on the letter claims that the ADC “facilitates the constant drift of pesticides and pesticide-laden dust into Native Hawaiian communities by leasing thousands of acres near them to heavy pesticide users, primarily genetically engineered seed companies, that spray tens of thousands of pounds of toxic pesticides each year.”
The statement also highlights the ongoing controversy over the ADC’s lack of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for the area that would require it to “monitor, restrict, and report contaminants in its vast West Kaua’i drainage canal system that weaves through the fields and empties millions of gallons of untreated waters into the ocean bordering Waimea and Kekaha.” (Earthjustice, representing Surfrider Foundation, is suing the ADC over this issue, as well.)
The ADC’s and DOA’s failure to restrict the community’s exposure to pesticides sprayed by their tenants “disproportionately harm Native Hawaiians in West Kaua‘i and on Moloka‘i, where large populations of Native Hawaiians live very close to large-scale spraying operations,” the press release states.
“I live in a community that is home to the largest population of pure blooded Native Hawaiian, native speakers in Hawaiʻi, what many would consider an endangered race and a wealth of cultural knowledge. We also happen to be a community that is inundated daily by exposure to industrial use pesticides. When you consider the danger of frequent, long-term exposure to industrial pesticides, some may consider this to be a form of genocide,” said Malia Chun, member of The MOM Hui and Kekaha resident.
“Although EPA regulations require recipients of federal funding to have a program to ensure their actions do not have discriminatory effects, neither ADC nor HDOA has one,” the release states.
Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff argued that concerns of native Hawaiians living on Moloka`i or Kaua`i’s west side are being dismissed because they lack political clout. If someone were spraying the toxic chemicals that were drifting into homes and schools in affluent neighborhoods, however, someone would shut it down, Achitoff said.
— Teresa Dawson