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A taro farm in Waipio.

Hawaii’s path to a better food system: Where we’re at by the numbers

This June, The Hawaii Independent will be leading a month-long discussion on Hawaii’s food situation.

For over 1,000 years, the Hawaiian people produced enough food to support an estimated population of one million. Today, 85 to 90 percent of Hawaii’s food is imported. And if current trends continue, Hawaii’s last agricultural lands will be gone by 2040, according to the Hawaii Farmers Union. Can Hawaii change course in time? Hawaii’s farmers say “yes.”

Stories this month take a closer look at what we eat, what we grow, and what we import in our islands and the potential food options we have available in being sustainable. We’ll also be looking at the new movement of young, local farmers as well as the burgeoning local restaurant scene.

The Hawaii Independent has put together the following food info by the numbers to bring things a little bit into perspective.


How much Hawaii ag land is out there?

Total land acreage for the state: 4,112,388
Total acreage of lands used for agriculture (statewide): 1,930,224

Hawaii Island: 1,214,040
Maui: 244,088
Molokai: 111,627
Lanai: 46,639
Oahu: 128,810
Kauai: 139,320
Niihau: 45,700

(From the State of Hawaii Data Book for 2009)

To see a breakdown of how land in Hawaii is divided into agricultural, urban, and conservation, click here


How many farms does Hawaii have?

The census definition of a farm is a place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year.

Number of farms: 7,500
Land in farms (acres): 1,110,000
Average farm size in acres: 148

Vegetables are harvested for sale in Hawaii on 901 farms over 6,845 acres; non-citrus fruits on 3,903 farms over 18,021 acres; citrus fruits on 884 farms over 890 acres.

Cattle and calves are farmed over 141,000 acres. Hogs and pigs are farmed over 12,500 acres.

(From the 2010 State Agriculture Overview and the Census of Agriculture)


What do Hawaii farmers grow?

According to the 2010 State Agriculture Overview, Hawaii uses 6,300 acres of farmland to grow coffee; 475 acres for taro; 17,200 acres for sugar cane (15,700 for sugar, 1,500 for seed).

Principal crops grown in Hawaii include rambutan, lychee, longan, and mango, accounting for 87.8 percent of production between 2003 and 2007.

The USDA lists Hawaii’s top five agricultural exports for 2009 as:

1. fruits and preparations
2. other
3. tree nuts
4. live animals and meat
5. seeds

The USDA lists Hawaii’s top agricultural commodities for 2009 as:

1. other seeds
2. greenhouse/nursery
2. cane for sugar
3. macadamia nuts
4. cattle and calves


What’s Hawaii’s dairy production like these days?

The last commercial dairy farm, Pacific Dairy in Waianae, closed on February 2008.

Both of the state’s two remaining licensed dairy operations are located on Hawaii Island. Production from these farms account for less than 10 percent of the total supply of fluid milk in Hawaii. Only a limited volume of milk produced on Hawaii Island is available for consumers on Oahu, Maui, and Kauai.

(From the State’s 2010 report on dairy)

For more information on Hawaii’s organic food production, click here


Upcoming stories from The Hawaii Independent throughout the month will further explore where Hawaii’s food comes from, obstacles in obtaining the necessary land and water for agriculture, hunger in the state, Hawaii’s new farmers, the future of Hawaii’s restaurant industry, GMOs, seed-banking, and more. Please stay tuned.

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