The future of farming


What’s the difference between climate and weather? Neil DeGrasse Tyson, on “Cosmos,” describes it like the guy strolling down the beach with his dog. The dog running back and forth is the weather. The guy walking along the beach is climate.

As we stroll along the climate change beach, the first problem we notice is energy. Without energy, work stops. Petroleum products are finite — farmers’ costs will rise and their customers’ costs will rise. How can we dodge the bullet?

I’ve attended five Peak Oil conferences and learned a lot. The world has been using twice to three times as much oil as we have been finding, so the price will keep going up. This will keep increasing farmers’ costs and their customers’ costs. We need to do something that will help all of us, not just a few of us. Something that can help future generations cope.

That something is hydrogen. On the mainland, it is made from natural gas. Here it can be made from running electricity through water. The key to hydrogen is electricity cost. We are throwing away lots of electricity at night. The geothermal plant can be curtailed at 70 MW per day. That’s throwing away 70 MW of electricity every night. The new eucalyptus chip plant, Hu Honua, can be curtailed by 10 MW for 10 hours per night.

Hydrogen from our renewable resources will become more and more attractive as oil and gas prices rise, and at some point we will have an advantage over the rest of the world. And as a bonus, hydrogen combined with nitrogen in the air will produce nitrogen fertilizer.

You may also be interested to know the inside scoop about the lawsuit Big Island farmers brought against Hawaii County.

We did it for clarity. We thought that the feds and the state had jurisdiction, not the county. We want clarity about the rules of the game. Farmers are law-abiding citizens and we play by the rules.

And we want equal treatment: Only Big Island farmers are prohibited from using biotech solutions that all our competitors can use. That’s discriminatory against local farmers.

When the law was first proposed, they wanted to ban all genetically modified organisms. We asked, “What are papaya farmers supposed to do?” They said, “We can help them get new jobs, to transition,” and we were speechless. It was as if they were just another commodity. So farmers and ranchers got together and ran a convoy around the county building in protest.

Then the County Council said it would give the rainbow papaya farmers a break. I was there when the papaya farmers voted whether to accept the grandfather clause for rainbow papayas.

The papaya farmers said, “We are not going to abandon our friends who supported us when we needed help. That is not who we are.” They voted unanimously to reject the offer.

As a Vietnam veteran, where the unspoken rule was that we all come back or no one comes back, I could not have been prouder of the papaya farmers. Old-fashioned values.

I don’t grow GMOs, and this isn’t about me. I’ll make 70 this year and, like almost all the farmers, have never sued anyone. But there comes a time when you have to stand up for what is right. This is about food security.

We need everybody producing food. Organic farmers, who supply only about 4 percent of the national food supply and maybe 1 percent of Hawaii’s, are not threatened by modern farming; they are threatened by mainland, industrial-scale organic farms. That’s why there are hardly any locally grown organics in the retail stores. It’s about cost of production. Also, on the mainland, winter kills off the bad bugs and weeds and the organic farmers can outrun the bugs through the early part of summer. Hawaii farmers don’t have winter to help us.

More importantly, this is about pro-science and anti-science. That is why farmers are stepping up. We know that science is self-correcting and gives us a solid frame of reference. You don’t end up fooling yourself. In all of Hawaii’s history, now is no time to be fooling ourselves.

My pop always told me that there were a thousand reasons why “No Can.” He said, look for the one reason why can. He said to look for two solutions to every problem and one more, just in case.

He would pound the dinner table and dishes would bounce in the air and he would point in the air and say, “Not no can. CAN!”

We can have a better world for future generations. It’s all common sense and attitude.

Richard Ha, a resident of Hilo, writes an agriculture and energy blog at hahaha.hamakuasprings.com.

Viewpoint articles are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily the opinion of West Hawaii Today.