Hawaii County gets agriculture disaster designation


The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared Hawaii County a disaster area based on damage to crops by Tropical Storm Iselle, Secretary Thomas Vilsack said Wednesday.

Vilsack, in a letter, said the declaration, which “makes farm operators (in the county) … eligible to be considered for certain assistance from the FSA, provided eligibility requirements are met.”

Available assistance includes Farm Service Agency emergency loans. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of a secretarial disaster declaration to apply for emergency loans. The FSA takes into account the extent of production losses on the farm, and the security and repayment ability of the operator, Vilsack said.

Hawaii’s Congressional delegation praised the announcement.

“For our Hawaii Island farmers, this disaster declaration by the USDA opens the door for federal assistance, and is one more step toward a recovering from (Tropical Storm) Iselle,” Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-2nd, said. “Our neighbors in Puna, volunteers, utility workers, and local and state agencies are working hard to rebuild and move forward. We must continue to support them however we can throughout the difficult process of recovery.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono agreed.

“Much of East Hawaii’s agricultural sector, including papayas, macadamia, coffee, and the floriculture and nursery industry, sustained damage from Tropical Storm Iselle,” Hirono said in an email statement. “The most severe loss was to papaya farmers. An estimated 60 percent of statewide papaya production was devastated. Preliminary assessments indicate that damage and losses due to the storm for papaya farmers is over $50 million. Many of the papaya farmers are small, family operations that did not have catastrophic crop insurance. … Federal resources are urgently needed to help our farmers and access to emergency loans is an important option for farmers as they work to recover.”

President Barack Obama denied Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s request for a presidential disaster declaration last week.