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Kohala Center Awarded $152,000 To Assist Island Farming Cooperatives

The Kohala Center, Inc., a community-based non-profit on Hawaii Island, has been awarded a $151,913 grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to assist several farming cooperatives on Hawaii Island and Maui. USDA announced the grant awards today under the Small Socially Disadvantaged Producers Grant program, which offers technical assistance to help producers develop new markets and grow their operations.

Click to view release

Click to view release

In its grant proposal, the Kohala Center states it will use the funds to provide technical assistance to  Palili `O Kohala Cooperative (Hawaii Island), Maui Aquaponics Cooperative (Maui), Kau Agricultural Water Cooperative (Hawaii Island) and Cho Global Natural Farming Cooperative (Hawaii Island).

“Rural cooperatives are in a position to employ special marketing strategies to increase the bottom line for their farmers but may not always have the experience to do so,” said Russell S. Kokubun, chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture. “The Kohala Center has been a valuable resource for the agricultural community and this grant will expand its ability to strengthen these farming cooperatives, which the Abercrombie Administration recognizes as vital contributors to our economy and food-sustainability.”

Hawaii was one of 13 states that received funding under the Small Socially Disadvantaged Producers Grant. For more information on this grant, go to the USDA website:  http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDAOC/bulletins/8cc03c

Food Basket of Hawaii Begins Annual Backpack Drive

The Food Basket, Hawai‘i Island’s food pantry, will begin its annual backpack program in October, to help provide school children with backpacks full of nutritious food on a regular basis.  A nationwide initiative that the state adopted five years ago, the program has served more than 450 children in two schools over the last two years.

Photo: Courtesy of The Food Basket

Photo: Courtesy of The Food Basket

“On the Big Island, we have five elementary schools with free and reduced lunch registrations over 90%,” said En Young, The Food Basket (TFB) Executive Director. “The school with the highest utilization is at 97%.”  Part of the National School Lunch Program that provides meals to children on school days, the Free and Reduced-Price Lunch Program requires registration, and can therefore help measure food needs of a particular school and community.

“Free and reduced lunch kids tend to get their most nutritious meal at school, so we stuff a backpack full of canned food, beverages and snacks for them to take home—especially over long weekends.  We try to do this at least once a month, and every other week before summer,” said Young.

Young said that this year, with support from the Food Bank, Hawai‘i island United Way and a very generous private grant, TFB will be able to expand the backpack program to three schools and more than 1,100 keiki in the Puna and South Kona Districts. Every child in the school may receive a backpack, without being labeled as needy. “We qualify the school rather than the individual,” said Young.

According to TFB website:

  • Not having enough food to sustain a healthy life is a reality for 1 in 8 Americans.  This includes children and seniors.
  • The lack of proper nutrition affects the cognitive and behavioral development of children.
  • According to the United States Department of Agriculture, limited resources prevent more than 36 million Americans from getting enough food.

In Hawai‘i specifically:

  • 32% of those served by TFB have had to choose between food and rent or mortgage bills, 27% between food and medicine or medical needs.
  • Among households with children, 67% are food insecure, including 31% who are experiencing hunger.
  • 11 % of adults served are elderly (65 or older).
  • 25% of households served had one or more children under age 18; and 6% of households served had one or more children age 5 or under.
  • 63% of client households have a monthly income below $1,000

“It’s important for us to help the public become more aware of what we do,” said Young.
For us, we want people to know that the need is there, and even if we can’t serve everybody, The Food Basket can make a difference, and help feed hungry kids.”

The Food Basket is an island-wide, supplemental food network that, in partnership with numerous community organizations, collects and distributes nutritious, high-quality food to low-income households, the working poor, senior citizens, children, people who are disabled or ill, and other members of the Big Island’s most vulnerable populations. Programs include regularly scheduled soup kitchens and food pantries in East and West Hawaii. For more information, or to make a donation, please visit www.foodbaskethi.org or call 808-933-6060.

 

Kona Rep. Nichole Lowen Thanks Senator Mazie Hirono for Securing Federal Funds to Fight Coffee Berry Borer

Representative Nicole Lowen (Kailua-Kona, Holualoa, Kalaoa, Honokohau) today praised U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono for successfully securing $1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to fight the coffee berry borer beetle that has been a blight on Hawaii Island coffee growers for the past three years.

Senator Nicole Lowen

Rep. Nicole Lowen

This past legislative session, Representative Lowen introduced and guided HB 353 through the State Legislature.  It was signed into law on June 26th, and will provide $800,000 in state money for mitigation of the coffee borer infestation.

“Thanks to Senator Hirono, the additional million dollars from the USDA coupled with the $800,000 in state funding and other resources will enable us to launch an offensive against this destructive insect before it decimates our coffee industry.  The industry brings in about $30 million dollars annually, and is an important part of Hawaii’s cultural heritage. We need to do all that we can to protect its viability.  I will continue to work with the State Legislature and with our congressional delegation to further preserve our coffee industry,” said Rep. Lowen.

Senator Hirono and USDA Announce First Major Federal Initiative to Fight Coffee Berry Borer

After Hirono Urged USDA To Take Action Against The Highly Destructive Beetle Earlier This Year, Department Agrees To Spend $1 Million Immediately To Set-Up Hawaii Operation To Fight Invasive Species

Senator Mazie K. Hirono and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled the first major federal initiative today to fight the coffee berry borer that has been ravaging Hawaii Island coffee farms for almost three years. The project, a new arm of the USDA’s integrated pest management program, will be a scientifically-based approach to fighting the invasive species. In the immediate term, USDA will spend an initial $1 million dollars to set-up the Hawaii operation.

Coffee Berry Borer (Hypothenemus hampei)

Coffee Berry Borer (Hypothenemus hampei)

“This new initiative to fight the coffee berry borer is great news for Hawaii and our economy, and I am very pleased that the USDA has recognized the threat of this highly destructive invasive species,” said Hirono. “Our state produces some of the world’s best coffee, and coffee is an important export from our state. But the livelihood of Hawaii Island coffee growers is increasingly being threatened by the coffee berry borer, as many farmers are forced to abandon large portions of their yields due to infestation each year. That’s why I originally urged the USDA to set up this initiative and have been working closely with the department to begin its implementation. USDA, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture and the University of Hawaii will collectively work to help coffee farmers combat and contain this invasive species.”

The announcement of the new project comes after Hirono urged the department to set up a Hawaii operation to fight the coffee berry borer. After working closely with Hirono and Hawaii coffee farmers to assess the need for the program, USDA agreed to immediately implement a new initiative to fight the devastating invasive species.

“USDA shares your concerns about the agricultural and economic impacts of this noxious pest,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote to Hirono in a letter earlier this month. “As such, I am pleased to announce the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service has funded an Area Wide Integrated Pest Management program to aid in controlling the coffee berry borer in the United States.”

Electronic scan of the coffee berry borer

Electronic scan of the coffee berry borer

Members of the Hawaii delegation have been working to get more funding for a possible program in the Farm Bill currently being considered in Congress. Ahead of USDA’s agreement to fund a program, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard introduced a successful amendment which was included in the Farm Bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that authorized funding for a USDA program. Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa cosponsored the measure. Hirono introduced a similar measure in the Senate that was cosponsored by Senator Brian Schatz.

“The coffee berry borer has been a destructive force striking at the heart of Hawai‘i’s multi-million dollar coffee industry,” said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. “In just two years, our treasured Kona coffee industry suffered more than $9 million in market losses, representing a roughly 25 percent revenue decrease. The economic impact has been deeply felt by coffee farms, most of which are small family farms, and coffee processors are being forced to lay off workers or reduce hours. The USDA initiative being established in Hawai‘i will help local coffee growers combat the effects of this invasive and destructive pest.”

The new program will be tasked with distributing effective treatments to local farmers and educating them on the most effective treatment practices, researching the genetic makeup of the coffee berry borer to find its weakness and disposing of infected plants. In his letter, Vilsack explained that the new USDA initiative will coordinate with local coffee farmers, the University of Hawaii and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to use the following techniques to fight the borer:

  • Distribute the most effective repellents to farmers and training them on how to best use these treatments
  • Research new types of pest controls that could be more effective in killing the beetles
  • Create a plant sanitation program that decreases the opportunities for borer to reproduce and spread
  • Study the borer to find how the species is similar or different that other agricultural pest in order to develop better methods for controlling the pest

Hawaii Island is home to more than 700 small coffee farms. In 2011, coffee farmers in Hawaii produced more than 8 million pounds of coffee, valued at more than $30 million.

The borer is an insect native to Central Africa that lives, feeds and reproduces in both immature and mature coffee berries. This damage can have a significant negative impact on the quality and quantity of coffee crop yields. As a direct result of the coffee berry borer, many farmers in 2012 have expressed concerns that their yields were in jeopardy. Recent reports have found infestation rates of up to 80% for some Hawaii farms.

Vilsack’s letter to Hirono agreeing to start the program, as well as her initial call for the USDA to create the initiative, read below:

USDA to Mazie

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

 

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

 

Governor Abercrombie Signs Bill Vital to Hawaii’s Honeybee Industry

In conjunction with “Hawaii Pollinator Week,” which recognizes the role of honeybees and other primary pollinators as essential to many agricultural and horticultural operations, Gov. Neil Abercrombie today signed Senate Bill 482 into law to ensure the continued viability of honeybee operations in the state.

Gov. Abercrombie holds up the proclamation

Gov. Abercrombie holds up the proclamation

“We must encourage beekeeping operations of all sizes to ensure that honeybee stocks thrive in both managed apiaries and the wild, especially as bee populations have declined due to disease and invasive predators,” Gov. Abercrombie said. “SB482 will make beekeeping more financially viable for beekeepers to legally extract, bottle and sell honey by minimizing unnecessary administrative and bureaucratic requirements in ways that will not affect public safety.”

SB482, enacted today as Act 131, clarifies the maximum number of gallons of honey that can be sold by a certified honey house or food processing establishment without obtaining a permit from the state Department of Health (DOH). The measure also exempts from permit requirement sales of honey directly to retail stores that, in turn, sell the honey directly to consumers. In addition, the act provides for consumer protections by requiring honey producers to include appropriate labeling of each container of honey, take a food safety class, and make records available to DOH.

“Many small beekeepers have been unable to successfully navigate current regulatory hurdles required to operate a certified food-processing establishment on their own premises for the extraction and bottling of honey, which has resulting in many giving up beekeeping entirely,” said Hawaii Board of Agriculture Chairperson Russell S. Kokubun. “SB482 provides needed clarification to state law and greater flexibility to Hawaii’s honeybee farmers as not only a growing facet of our local agriculture industry but also a fundamental part of the long-term sustainability of the industry and the protection of our native habitats.”

Bee Polinator Week

After signing the bill, Gov. Abercrombie officially proclaimed June 17 through 23 “Hawaii Pollinator Week” to recognize the vital role of bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles in maintaining healthy, diverse ecosystems and productive farms in Hawaii and elsewhere throughout the world. Through the observance, all citizens are encouraged to be mindful of the habitats and public lands, such as forests and grasslands, and the conservation assistance provided by the State of Hawaii to promote wise conservation stewardship, including the protection and maintenance of pollinators.

Pollinator Week was first designated by the U.S. Senate and U.S. Department of Agriculture in June of 2007 and has been promoted annually by the Pollinator Partnership to address the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Varroa mites, small hive beetles, and nosema have decimated honeybee populations on the continental United States and recently throughout Hawaii.

 

State of Hawaii Invests in Innovative Zero Waste Biofuel Program – Governor Presents $200,000 to Hilo-Based Project

Governor Presents $200,000 to Hilo-Based Project, Recognizes Local Researcher Dennis Gonsalves, Ph.D.

abercrombieheader

At a special open house event at the USDA Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center (PBARC), Gov. Neil Abercrombie today presented a $200,000 check from the state Department of Agriculture that will go toward the Hilo center’s zero waste biofuel and high protein feed program.

PBARC along with Florida-based BioTork Hawaii LLC have invested more than $1 million to successfully develop an economically sustainable zero waste conversion project producing biofuel and high protein animal feed from unmarketable papaya. The conversion process takes 14 days to cycle in a heterotrophic environment, meaning no sunlight is needed using organically optimized algae/fungi developed and patented by BioTork.

From Gov. Abercrombie's Facebook page.

From Gov. Abercrombie’s Facebook page.

The state’s $200,000 investment will assist PBARC in moving the project to pilot scale as a prelude to commercial production. The State of Hawaii’s Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC) will become a venture partner to globally export the rapid conversion technology in association with PBARC and BioTork Hawaii LLC.

“This patented evolutionary technology is unique to the marketplace and places Hawaii in a leading position in the area of biofuel and feed research,” Gov. Abercrombie said. “With this technology, farmers can turn agricultural waste into an additional revenue stream, and local production of biofuel can lower dependence on Hawaii’s import of fossil fuels.

“Aside from the benefit of producing biofuel, this technology has the ability to create another revenue stream for papaya and other tropical agriculture farmers. Local high protein feed production – another by-product of this process – can greatly benefit cattle, hog, chicken and aquaculture farms through competitive market pricing.”

The state also hopes to develop a long-term revenue generator as a partner exporting this technology. At full scale, more than 1,000 jobs are projected.

While papaya was chosen as the initial feedstock, this technology can be applied to any plant material as a carbon source. In Hawaii, other identifiable feedstock are unmarketable sweet potato, sugar cane, mango, albizia and glycerol. Invasive trees like albizia could be used as feedstock in this zero waste program.

“This Hawaii-based technological development is a major breakthrough that focuses on key components hampering the sustainability efforts of other microorganism based biofuel projects,” said James Nakatani, ADC executive director. “These obstacles include the high cost of feedstock. Approximately 70 percent of the cost for production is consumed in this area. Using unmarketable plant and other waste materials drastically reduces this cost driver.

“While past lab projects have not translated into robust performances when scaled-up, BioTork’s solution promotes rapid and dynamic evolution of microorganisms that are robust even in ‘suboptimal’ conditions.”

Research and development funds will be used for customizing feedstock formulations to create Hawaii’s zero waste conversion technological library. The library will be available for export and sale to other states and countries. The United States alone produces up to 20 million metric tons of culled produce from which as much as 1.7 billion gallons of renewable lipids could be made.

Dr. Dennis Gonsalves Day
Also at the event, the Governor honored Kohala-born Dennis Gonsalves, Ph.D. by proclaiming April 6 “Dr. Dennis Gonsalves Day,” recognizing his research efforts at PBARC to improve and develop sustainable agriculture crops and programs in Hawaii and around the world.

Dr. Gonsalves served for 10 years as PBARC’s director and recently retired. He is most noted for his efforts that saved Hawaii’s papaya industry from the ringspot virus. The transgenic “Rainbow Papaya” that he and his team developed and released to growers in 1998 helped to bring the industry back after ringspot virus had reduced Hawaii’s papaya production by 50 percent.

Bills Important to the Big Island Continue Moving in the Legislature

As the 2013 legislative session hits the half way mark, proposed bills affecting the economy and quality of life for Big Island residents have been approved by the House of Representatives and sent to the Senate for further consideration.  Representative Richard H.K. Onishi (Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano, Pahala) has been working to keep several of those measures moving forward.

capital

“Agriculture is an important component of life for residents who live in my district and for all of us on Hawaii Island.  I am pleased that the House has approved legislation that supports, improves and strengthens this vital part of our economy and life style. If we truly want to achieve food sustainability for Hawaii and put more local food in our markets and homes we need to assist farmers in every way we can, “said Representative Onishi.

The House also approved funding for Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) to improve facilities at Keeau Middle School, and appropriated money to renovate the Keaukaha Military Reservation to house the Youth Challenge Academy.

Onishi said, “The funding for Keeau Middle School allows us to renovate the music building, and provide for the health and safety of our students by demolishing classrooms that are deemed not safe.  As for the Youth Challenge Academy, it needs to be relocated to the Keaukaha Military Reservation so that its current site, Kulani Correctional Facility, can be returned to its original and proper mission as an incarceration facility.”

Legislative Highlights for Hawaii Island:

  • HB353 – Appropriates funds to the Department of Agriculture for the United States Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center to research and develop methods for the prevention and treatment of coffee berry borer infestations. Provides a grant for the coffee berry borer task force for control of the coffee berry borer and mitigation of damage.
  • HB487 – Expands livestock feed subsidy to include feed for goats, sheep, lambs, fish and crustaceans. Creates a subsidy for qualified feed developers.
  • HB489 – Provides, under certain circumstances, an exemption from building code and permit requirements for nonresidential buildings or structures on farms.
  • HB1264 – Allows for agricultural loans to be administered for livestock biosecurity projects. Modifies the new farmer loan program of the Department of Agriculture to promote the development of innovative technologies and to assist new farm enterprises.
  • HB1419 – Appropriates funds for personnel, operations and equipment to the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES).
  • HB417 – Addresses primary care physician shortages by appropriating funds for the interdisciplinary Hawaii Health Systems Corporation primary care training program at Hilo Medical Center.

House CIP Highlights for Hawaii Island:

  • $20,000 to renovate music building at Keeau Middle School
  • $675,000 to construct covered walkways and demolish unsafe classrooms at Keeau Middle School
  • $2.5 million for improvements to Ka‘u irrigation system
  • $5.9 million to renovate Keeaukaha Military Reservation to house the Youth Challenge Academy

 

Funding Renewed for Organic Cost-Share Program

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) is currently accepting applications for a new round of organic certification cost-share assistance to organic farmers and organic livestock operators. Renewed federal funding totaling up to $65,000 has been allotted to help Hawaii organic farmers with the cost of organic certification through a cooperative agreement executed between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and HDOA.

Click for more information

Click for more information

Organic farmers and livestock operators are required to have their farms and practices inspected annually and certified by an agent approved by the USDA. The Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (AMAOCCSP) allows organic growers to receive reimbursement of up to 75 percent of the cost of this inspection and certification (up to a maximum of $750).  The AMAOCCSP program was authorized under the Federal Crop Insurance Act. This is the fifth consecutive year that Hawaii has participated in this program.

To receive reimbursement, the date of certification or renewal by a USDA accredited certifying agent must occur between October 1, 2012 and September 30, 2013. Applications and information are available online at the HDOA website:  http://hdoa.hawaii.gov/add/md/usda-organic-certification-cost-share-programs/

Unfortunately, USDA did not renew a separate program this year for organic processors/handlers.

For information and assistance with the application process, contact:

HDOA – Agricultural Development Division

Market Development Branch, 1428 S. King Street, Room 214, Honolulu, HI  96814-2512

Phone: (808) 973-9595 Fax:  (808) 973-9590  Email:  hdoa.md@hawaii.gov

Hawaii Entomologists Ramp Up Production of Moth to Control Toxic Fireweed

Hawaii ranchers are hopeful that a small beige-colored moth will be able to control the fireweed, an invasive plant that is toxic to livestock and has caused havoc on the state’s prime pasturelands. For more than 13 years, entomologists and researchers at the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) have literally searched the world for a natural enemy of the weed that would be safe to release in Hawaii. The most promising turned out to be an insect called Secusio extensa (Arctiidae), the Madagascan Fireweed Moth, the larvae of which voraciously eats the leaves of fireweed.

Madagascan Fireweed Moth

Madagascan Fireweed Moth

It is believed that the weed came to the islands in hydromulch material imported from Australia where it is a serious pest. HDOA entomologists on Oahu have begun stepping up production of the moth after receiving the long-awaited approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which came on Dec. 6, 2012. The state approved the release of the moth in 2010, but also required approval of a federal permit.  The first release of the biocontrol insects is slated for early 2013, depending on the rearing of the insects in the laboratory.

“Years of extensive research have been conducted on this biocontrol program,” said Russell S. Kokubun, chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture.  “Control of this weed is one of the more important issues to Hawaii ranchers, and we are hopeful that it can be controlled by this natural process.”

Fireweed Plant

Fireweed Plant

“Fireweed has become an even more aggressive pest during this extended period of drought,” said
Dr. Tim Richards, president of Kahua Ranch on Hawaii Island. “So it’s even more critical to our industry’s sustainability that an effective control prevents additional loss of productive pasturelands.”

In 1999, HDOA began looking for a biological control for the pretty but deadly plant with yellow daisy-like flowers, also known as Madagascar Ragwort. It is estimated that the weed has infested more than 850,000 acres, mainly on Maui and Hawaii Island. Although there are effective pesticides, it is expensive and impractical to use across hundreds and thousands of acres.  Besides Hawaii, fireweed has spread through many parts of the world killing animals in Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Japan. Secusio will be the first biocontrol agent to be released against Madagascar fireweed in the world.

HDOA’s exploratory entomologist, Dr. Mohsen Ramadan, traveled to Australia, South Africa and Madagascar in 1999 and returned with 14 insects and one fungus, which were researched and tested under quarantine conditions.  Some were found to be ineffective, while others were found to harm other native or beneficial plants.  Dr. Ramadan traveled to the region again in 2005, 2007, 2011 and 2012 to look for more potential biocontrols for fireweed and other pests, such as coffee berry borer, small hive beetle and the protea mealybug.

Madagascan Fireweed Moth Larvae

Madagascan Fireweed Moth Larvae

Entomologists and staff in Honolulu were busy not only trying to keep the quarantined pests alive, but it also meant that they also had to grow the fireweed to host the moths.  HDOA is also testing four other potential natural enemies of fireweed, each which appear to attack different parts of the plant.

“Until now, we have been able to keep generations of this moth alive under quarantine conditions,” said Darcy Oishi, section chief of the Biocontrol Section. “We have now switched gears and begun to ramp up production to increase the chances of successful control of fireweed. With the support of the ranchers and others, we hope to release more than one million moths this year.”

“Biological control of pests can be the most efficient and cost-effective method to manage significant pests,” added Dr. Neil Reimer, manager of HDOA’s Plant Pest Control Branch.  “Since 1975, HDOA has released 51 biocontrol agents and all have been successful and none have been found to attack anything but the target pest or weed.”

“Fireweed has proven to be highly invasive and in certain areas has reduced the forage production by as much as 60 percent,” said Dr. Mark Thorne, state range specialist with the University of Hawaii – College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. “With the pending release of Secusio, ranchers will have a valuable tool that will help them recover some of the economic value of their pastures.”

Fireweed Flower

Fireweed Flower

Biological control, which utilizes natural plant enemies and/or diseases, is needed in natural and managed ecosystems as a tool for managing invasive plant species that are too widespread and expensive to control using herbicides and/or mechanical removal methods. Although challenging to implement, effective biocontrol can provide long-term, large-scale, highly selective control of otherwise prolific weeds. Current research methods thoroughly test potential biocontrol agents prior to release to ensure that they only attack the target weed and not other native or beneficial plants or animals.

Hawaii continues to be a leader in biocontrol of pests. The Kingdom of Hawaii was a world leader in biocontrol with successful introductions of a beetle to control cottony cushion scale in 1890. After Hawaii became a U.S. territory in 1900, biological control methods progressed with the introduction of several insect species to control lantana in 1902. Since then, researchers in Hawaii continue to be internationally recognized in biological control of weeds and plant pests and have collaborated with colleagues worldwide on the biological control of invasive weeds and pests such as miconia, fountain grass, banana poka, ivy gourd, gorse, wiliwili gall wasp and nettle caterpillar, among others.

Department of Agriculture Gets Approval to Release Moth to Combat Fireweed in Hawaii

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture has obtained approval from the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) to release the Arctiidae moth to combat the spread of Fireweed, an invasive pest that is toxic to livestock, Senator Daniel K. Inouye announced today.

Fireweed

Fireweed is an invasive weed from Madagascar which has infected an estimated 850,000 acres primarily on Maui and Hawaii Island. Fireweed has no natural predators in Hawaii, is resistant to drought, and if left unchecked, could spread to an additional 1.5 million acres in the next ten years.

“For the last decade, Hawaii’s cattle industry has been combating Fireweed. Due to the scope of Fireweed’s spread, chemical sprays are not feasible or economical. I want to express my gratitude to the State Department of Agriculture and to the USDA-APHIS for working together to approve the release of this bio-control moth that will help to control this invasive flower. It is my hope that this effort will help to ensure that Hawaii’s cattle industry will continue to thrive and help the state move toward greater food self sufficiency,” said Senator Inouye.

It is believed that Fireweed arrived in Hawaii in the 1980s.

Each Fireweed flower produces 30,000 seeds per year which are easily spread by wind, hiking boots, vehicles, and animals. The Arctiidae moth is also native to Madagascar and feeds on Fireweed.

The state continues to research other animals that could be used to further disrupt Fireweed’s spread.

 

Ken Love Surprised with Lifetime Achievement Award at One Island’s Fruit Lover’s Festival

Fruit growers in Hawaii and around the globe are familiar with the valuable contributions Captain Cook resident Ken Love has made towards promoting economic sustainability for small fruit farmers. He was caught by surprise at the recent Fruit Lovers Fest when he rose to introduce a guest speaker, but unexpectedly found himself the center of attention.

Ken Love was awarded the Same Canoe Lifetime Achievement Award from the One Island Sustainable Living Center

Love received “much-deserved recognition for his passionate support of Hawaii fruit production and value-added product development” with a Same Canoe Lifetime Achievement Award from the One Island Sustainable Living Center. He was lauded for his efforts in championing new farmer-to-consumer connections and “touching many lives” through his promotion of grown-in-Hawaii products, both here and abroad.

Currently serving as the long-time president of the statewide Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers, Love co-chairs annual fruit conferences, works with chefs to bring locally grown products to restaurants, has produced a variety of fruit posters identifying Hawaii varieties and currently is organizing statewide ultra-exotic fruit tastings at retail grocery stores, such as Whole Foods on Oahu.

Love says the goal of his efforts is for Hawaii to grow more of its food. He explained, ”In 1960, Hawaii grew 90 percent of its own produce; by 2000, we were importing 90 percent. Change is happening. We are now at about 85 percent imported produce but that is still only 15 percent locally grown. The Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers wants to change that.”

Love was presented with a Hawaii-made koa wood “We’re all in the Same Canoe” paddle at the festival held at the One Island Sustainable Living Center. The event was funded in part by the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program and hosted through One Island’s ‘Reclaiming our Local Food System’ project.

“I am very humbled and honored to receive a lifetime achievement award from One Island Sustainable Living Center for my work with tropical fruit and developing systems and diversification programs for small family farms,” Love shared.

Learn more about Love’s work at http://www.facebook.com/Kenlovekona and his library of resources at http://www.hawaiifruit.net/ .

One Island is a local, non-profit program that hosts sustainability education activities on agriculture, local food system and zero-mile home gardening, renewable energy and solar grants, health and wellness, plus arts and culture.  The One Island Sustainable Living Center operates a 10-acre organic farm in Honaunau and includes 7,000 square feet in organic greenhouse and agriculture structures, a farm-based outdoor learning center, educational gardens and orchards, and is partnering with fellow non-profits and schools to host a variety of empowering, life-long learning programs for all ages. For info,  http://www.oneisland.org/hawaii/.

Pa’auilo Slaughterhouse Improvements Commence

The County of Hawai’i held a blessing this morning to commence $4.15 million worth of improvements to the State-owned slaughterhouse in Pa’auilo. Funds for the improvements were appropriated by the State Legislature and released by the Governor directly to the County of Hawai‘i to implement improvements that will help secure the future of Hawai‘i Island’s grass-fed beef industry.

 

“Today marked the beginning of $4.15 million in improvements to the Paʻauilo Slaughterhouse, improvements that will increase the plant’s capacity by 40% and create 10 to 15 more jobs! It took years of work to get us to this point. Mahalo nui to Jill Mattos, the De Luz family, and the ranching community for your efforts, to our State legislators for working to get the funding, and to our County departments of Research & Development and Public Works for taking on the project! We look forward to being able to grow and expand Hawaiʻi Island’s grass-fed beef industry!” (Mayor Kenoi’s Facebook page)

“If the rancher cannot ranch and the farmer cannot farm, we’re all in trouble. This isn’t all that we need, but it’s an important first step. We look forward to Hawai‘i Island being able to grow and expand our grass-fed beef industry,” said Hawai‘i County Mayor Billy Kenoi.

The proposed project will make much needed improvements in the critical areas of wastewater disposal, rendering of unusable solid waste, and refrigeration space to expand plant capacity and improve meat quality.

When complete, the plant’s capacity will increase by 40% and reduce the current processing backlog that makes it difficult for ranchers to bring their animals to market in a timely fashion. Improvements will also transform waste that currently goes to the landfill into useable value-added and energy producing by-products. Improvements will also address outstanding wastewater issues.

Once complete, the improvements will create new employment opportunities and increase the economic sustainability of the Hāmākua district.

“The future of beef depends on an up-to-date processing plant that can accommodate all the ranchers’ needs. Hawai‘i Beef Producers does, at present, three to four hundred head a month. With these improvements, we hope to increase to 600 head a month and add on 10 to 15 more employees,” said Jill Mattos of Hawai‘i Beef Producers.

Contracts for the work have been awarded to three separate contractors. Isemoto Contracting Co. Ltd. will be responsible for expanding refrigeration capacity and installing a new dry chill box to age grass fed beef before it is marketed. Ludwig Construction will install wastewater improvements including a new septic system and improvements to enable the recycling of wash water to irrigate surrounding pastures. Site Engineering will make repairs to the rendering plant and install equipment that turns inedible waste into compost material and animal fat for processing into biofuels.

The rendering plant work and the wastewater system will take 9 months to complete. The refrigeration improvements will begin after the holidays to reduce impact on slaughterhouse use and is scheduled for completion by the summer.

The Pa’auilo Slaughterhouse is owned by the State of Hawai’i and leased to Hawai’i Beef Producers, a partnership between David DeLuz Sr. and a group of ranchers. It is one of two USDA certified slaughterhouses on Hawai‘i Island, where over 75% of all the state’s cattle are raised.

According to the County’s recently released Food Self Sufficiency Baseline study, only about 17% of the beef eaten on Hawai’i Island is locally produced, in spite of the fact that the cattle industry produces nearly twice the number of cattle annually that the island consumes. Since the early 1990’s the cost of grain imports has made it too expensive for local ranchers to finish cattle locally. As a result, the bulk of the cattle industry ships young cattle to the mainland to be grown to market size and harvested there. Local slaughter capacity has fallen dramatically in the last 20 years and needs to be revitalized before a strong local grass fed industry can re-emerge.

The cattle industry has gone through its challenges, and it continues to face challenges,” said Randy Kurohara, director of the County’s Department of Research & Development. “But this slaughterhouse and rendering facility really represents a milestone in the advancement of our grass-fed beef industry here. Increasing our capacity to produce locally-raised beef is very important to our island’s self-reliance.”

23 Big Island Cows Die in Mainland Shipping Container Accident

Many folks don’t realize that many of Hawaii’s cows are shipped to the mainland to feedlots to be fattened up.

23 cows died in this Washington State container accident

In Washington State there was a tragic accident involving cows that were shipped from Hawaii.

“…Twenty-three of the 68 cattle aboard died in the container, which was en route from Hawaii to a feedlot.

“This was an unfortunate accident that turned out pretty well,” Jared Gould said. He was the veterinarian on duty at Horse Heaven Cattle Feeders in Sunnyside when the surviving cattle arrived.

“They were not in terrible shape,” he said. “They were tired and walked off to feed and water.”

The loaded container fell off a tractor-trailer and onto Interstate 90 on Oct. 6, landing on its side. After hitting the pavement, the container skidded about 200 feet.

When state troopers arrived at the scene, they found that some of the cattle had died in the crash and some of the surviving cattle had their hooves stuck in the container’s barred windows…

…Horse Heaven has been receiving cattle from Hawaii the past four or five months, he said. A drought on the islands has crippled producers’ ability to fatten the animals there.

Hawaii ranchers ship 40,000 live cattle a year to the mainland; only 4,000 are slaughtered for meat sales there.

Hawaii’s local and grass-fed beef industry will get a boost when Hawaii County breaks ground on renovations to a state-owned slaughterhouse on the Hamakua Coast…

You can read the full article here: Most Cattle Survive Washington Container Accident

I have two questions… why is a slaughter house called “Horse Heaven Cattle Feeders” and was the meat still edible?

University of Hawaii Awarded $6 Million Dollar Grant – Agriculture and Energy Departments Announce New Investments to Drive Innovations in Biofuels and Biobased Products

As part of the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above strategy to enhance U.S. energy security, reduce America’s reliance on imported oil and leverage our domestic energy supply, while also supporting rural economies, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Energy today announced a $41 million investment in 13 projects that will drive more efficient biofuels production and feedstock improvements.

“If we want to develop affordable alternatives for oil and gasoline that will help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we need investments like these projects to spur innovation in bioenergy,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “By producing energy more efficiently and sustainably, we can create rural jobs, boost rural economies and help U.S. farmers, ranchers and foresters prosper.”

“As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy to deploy every available source of American energy, we continue to strive for more efficient, cost-competitive technologies to produce U.S. energy,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “The investments announced today are helping to accelerate innovation across America’s growing biofuels industry, which will help to reduce our dependence on imported oil and support job creation across rural America.”

New Biomass Research and Development Initiative Investments

Through the joint Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI), USDA and the Energy Department are working to develop economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass and increase the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products. The five projects announced today will help to diversify the nation’s energy portfolio and replace the need for gasoline and diesel in vehicles.

The cost-shared projects include:

  • Quad County Corn Cooperative ($4.25 million – Galva, Iowa). This project will retrofit an existing corn starch ethanol plant to add value to its byproducts, which will be marketed to the non-ruminant feed markets and to the biodiesel industry. This project enables creation of diverse product streams from this facility, opening new markets for the cooperative and contributing to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s goals for cellulosic ethanol production and use.
  • Agricultural Research Service’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research ($7 million – Peoria, Illinois). This project will optimize rapeseed/canola, mustard and camelina oilseed crops for oil quality and yield using recombinant inbred lines. Remote sensing and crop modeling will enhance production strategies to incorporate these crops into existing agricultural systems across four ecoregions in the Western United States. The oils will be hydrotreated to produce diesel and jet fuel.
  • Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. ($6.85 million – Findlay, Ohio). Guayule is a hardwood perennial natural rubber-producing shrub grown in the semi-arid southwestern United States. This project will optimize production and quality of guayule rubber using genomic sequencing and development of molecular markers. The extracted rubber will be used in tire formulations, and the remaining plant residue will be evaluated for use in biopower and for conversion to jet fuel precursors.
  • University of Wisconsin ($7 million – Madison, Wisconsin).This project will utilize dairy manure as a source of fiber and fertilizer. Fiber will be converted to ethanol, manure used for fertilizer, and oil from the crops will be converted to biodiesel used in farm equipment. The project goal is to develop closed-loop systems with new product streams that benefit the environment.
  • University of Hawaii ($6 million – Manoa, Hawaii). This project will optimize the production of grasses in Hawaii, including napier grass, energycane, sugarcane and sweet sorghum. Harvest and preprocessing will be optimized to be compatible with the biochemical conversion to jet fuel and diesel.

Additional information on the Biomass Development and Research Initiative is available HERE.

Leveraging Genomics for More Efficient, Cost-Effective Bioenergy

Today, the Energy Department and USDA are also announcing $10 million for eight research projects aimed at applying biomass genomics to improve promising biofuel feedstocks and drive more efficient, cost-effective energy production. These projects will use genetic mapping to advance sustainable biofuels production by analyzing and seeking to maximize genetic traits like feedstock durability, how tolerant feedstocks are to various environmental stresses, and the potential for feedstocks to be used in energy production.

A full list of the projects selected today is available HERE. The projects selected today include:

  • Michigan Technological University ($1.1 million – Houghton, Michigan). This project will analyze genetic traits that affect wood biomass yield and quality in the Populus species, including poplar trees.
  • Iowa State University ($1.4 million – Ames, Iowa). Research will explore the genetic architecture of sorghum biomass yield component traits identified using field-based analysis of the feedstock’s physical and genetic traits.

Since 2006, the Plant Feedstocks Genomics for Bioenergy research program has invested nearly $70 million helping to identify key genes affecting biomass yield and quality in feedstocks and to accelerate breeding efforts to improve bioenergy-relevant traits.

Hawaii Education Program Seeks to Increase STEM Education Through Gardening

Many teachers use creative methods to keep their students engaged in the curriculum they are teaching. Some methods work far better than others. For one group in Hawaii, teachers are using gardening to boost their science, technology and math classes, while placing an emphasis on Hawaii’s need for more experiential science learning related to agriculture and sustainability.

More than 100 teachers attended the Statewide School Garden Teacher Conference in Ho ‘Aina O Makaha, Oahu, last year as part of the Hawai‘i Island School Garden Network. Photo Credit: The Kohala Center

The Kohala Center is using funding from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the Secondary Higher Education and Ag in the Classroom Challenge grants program to organize the Hawai‘i Island School Garden Network. This network, consisting of 30 elementary, middle and high school teachers, will establish a School Learning Garden program that will integrate core curriculum and STEM education with hands-on, garden-based learning.

Over the course of one year, participating teachers will complete six learning modules that include a summer intensive, various school garden visits, a mentoring/teacher observation program and a garden-based research project. Each is designed to help them develop the skills and confidence needed to be a sustainability educator in a school garden setting.

As Hawaii is at the threshold of an agricultural renaissance, island residents understand the urgent need to return to more sustainable food and energy systems and to improve the state’s environment and human health. However, for this renaissance to be successful, the education pipeline needs to motivate students to gain the education needed for change to happen. School gardens are a logical place for experiential science learning and schooling for sustainability to start. The long-term goal of the project is to create an agricultural education program at the elementary and secondary levels that motivates and qualifies greater numbers of Hawai’i students to complete college-level agricultural science degree programs.

Food, water, energy, waste and economics play into the whole system of the garden every time a gardener goes out to work. Farming and gardening today have become a science with an emphasis on technology. The Hawai’i Island School Garden Network hopes to develop a team of educators who will bring science and the art of food production together in soil/seed to table programs.

Federal Disaster Declaration is Renewed for Vog Damage to Hawai’i Island Agriculture

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has renewed a disaster declaration for Hawai’i Island due to volcanic emissions from Kilauea Volcano. The declaration is in response to a request from Governor Neil Abercrombie on December 27, 2011, citing continued agricultural production losses caused by vog.

The federal declaration allows Hawai’i County agricultural producers the opportunity to apply for emergency loans due to damage caused by volcanic emissions. This type of disaster assistance has been provided for Hawai’i Island agricultural producers since 2008.

“Many farmers and ranchers on Hawai’i Island continue to have a difficult time with the cumulative effects of vog on their crops and livestock operations,” said Governor Abercrombie.  “The federal disaster designation renews our access to emergency federal loans and other assistance programs in this ongoing situation.”

Agricultural damages reported in Hawai’i County include: damage to vegetable crops (especially leafy greens), some orchard crops, flowers and foliage (including those under greenhouses).
Ranchers have experienced adverse impacts on range grasses and premature corrosion of fencing, gates and other metal infrastructure.

Hawai’i County agricultural producers who want to apply for emergency loans due to damage caused by volcanic emissions must do so before August 2012. For more information regarding emergency loans and other available assistance, contact the Hilo office of the USDA Farm Service Agency at (808) 933-8381 extension 2.

USDA Approves Value-Added Producer Grants to Five Hawaii Agribusinesses

The USDA approved value-added producer grants to five Hawaii agribusinesses.

They are:

News Release:

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today announced that USDA has selected 298 recipients in 44 states and Puerto Rico to receive business development assistance through the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program. Merrigan made the announcement in Chicago after keynoting the “Local/Regional Food System Conference” hosted at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

“In his State of the Union address last week President Obama was clear that we need to do more to create jobs and promote economic growth. These projects will provide financial returns and help create jobs for agricultural producers, businesses and families across the country,” Merrigan said. “This funding will promote small business expansion and entrepreneurship opportunities by providing local businesses with access capital, technical assistance and new markets for products and services.”

For example, Living Water Farms, Inc. is a three-year-old family company that focuses on the production of hydroponic greens for specialty markets in the Midwest. Located in Strawn, two hours south of Chicago’s Loop, three generations of the Kilgus family are part of a group called Stewards of the Land which was organized to market produce from small farms. The hydroponic complex was developed to supply fresh produce year-round. The current market includes Illinois supermarkets, restaurants in Chicago and St. Louis and a Midwest college food service program. The grant will help them evaluate their brand and expand distribution to other restaurants, specialty retail and institutional outlets.

One of the examples of how an award can make an impact is Agriberry LLC, located near Mechanicsville, Virginia. Agriberry is the dream of Anne and Chuck Geyer whose vision is to establish a consumer supported summer berry farm and become an agricultural training facility for first-time workers. They realized the region’s demand for an assortment of fresh, local, seasonal berries and fruits. With the assistance of a working capital value-added grant, Agriberry has now expanded to over 35 acres of red raspberries, and other fruit. They hire a number of local workers each growing season.

Green Mountain Organic Creamery, LLC in North Ferrisburgh, Vt., will receive a working capital grant to market certified organic, bottled pasteurized milk, butter, ice cream and other dairy products. Owners Cheryl and John DeVos founded the dairy to provide local, organic dairy products to the community and throughout the Northeast. Green Mountain was recognized as the Vermont Dairy of the Year in 2011.

For a complete list of recipients receiving grants please click here. Funding of individual recipients is contingent upon their meeting the conditions of the grant agreement.

The Value-Added Producer Grants announced today total more than $40.2 million. Funds may be used for feasibility studies or business plans, working capital for marketing value-added agricultural products and for farm-based renewable energy projects. Eligible applicants include independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and majority-controlled producer-based business ventures. Value-added products are created when a producer increases the consumer value of an agricultural commodity in the production or processing stage.

USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, administers and manages housing, business and community infrastructure and facility programs through a national network of state and local offices. Rural Development has an active portfolio of more than $155 billion in affordable loans and loan guarantees. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America. Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA Rural Development’s web site at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov.

 

USDA Expands Export Opportunities for Hawaiian Rainbow Papaya – Japan Approves

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that on Dec. 1, the Government of Japan approved Rainbow papaya for commercial shipment to Japan. The Rainbow papaya is genetically engineered to be resistant to the papaya ringspot virus. This announcement marks the beginning of a new chapter for Hawaiian papaya growers.

“The market opening in Japan is great news for Hawaii’s papaya producers and even better news for American agricultural exports,” said Michael Scuse, Acting Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services. “Under the Obama Administration, USDA has continued to expand markets for American goods abroad, worked aggressively to break down barriers to trade, and assisted U.S. businesses with the resources needed to reach consumers around the world. This announcement will ensure that Hawaii’s papaya producers help to drive our agricultural economy by expanding exports, creating jobs, and strengthening our nation’s competitiveness.”

In the 1990s, an outbreak of the papaya ringspot virus decimated Hawaii’s papaya crop. Scientists from Cornell University, the University of Hawaii, The Upjohn Company and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service used biotechnology to develop the Rainbow papaya, which is resistant to the virus. After receiving full clearance from the U.S. government, the Rainbow papaya was commercialized in 1998. Now, the majority of Hawaii’s papaya crop is resistant to ringspot virus through genetic engineering.

Japan was once the major market for Hawaiian papayas, with annual sales reaching $15 million in 1996. These sales dropped to $1 million by 2010 while U.S. exporters awaited Japan’s approval of Rainbow papaya. With Japan’s approval for import of Rainbow papaya, U.S. papaya producers are set to regain access to this important market, supporting jobs through increased exports.

Currently, the American brand of agriculture is surging in popularity worldwide. Farm exports in fiscal year 2011 reached a record high of $137.4 billion—exceeding past highs by $22.5 billion—and supported 1.15 million jobs here at home. The agricultural trade surplus stands at a record $42.7 billion. Horticultural product exports are forecast to reach a record of $28 billion, based on steady demand and high prices. Exports of fresh fruits and vegetables are expected to be strong to Japan, Canada and the European Union. Strong agricultural exports contribute to the positive U.S. trade balance, create jobs, boost economic growth and support President Obama’s National Export Initiative goal of doubling all U.S. exports by the end of 2014.

Unmarketable Hawaiian Papayas to be Used to Produce Green Fuels for Military Markets

BioTork has successfully converted unmarketable Hawaiian papayas to fatty acids that can be refined into green fuels. This result is a first milestone in a developmental research project conducted in collaboration with the US Dept of Agriculture Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center (USDA-PBARC) and Rivertop Solutions.

The objective of the project is to assess the capacity of BioTork’s proprietary technology to convert agricultural by-products into fatty acids, and its implications for the Hawaiian agriculture and military markets.

BioTork successfully developed strains of microorganisms, algae and mushrooms, which can eat papaya culls and convert the sugars in that waste stream into high value oil suitable for the production of advanced drop in green diesel and jet fuel.

First laboratory results show that BioTork and PBARC have the capacity to turn an economic liability for Hawaiian papaya farmers into a high value co-product while addressing at the same time the need for domestic production of renewable non-petroleum-based biofuel. PBARC is taking the process a step further by conducting tests to use the meal (de-oiled algae and mushroom) as a high protein feed for fish.

Tests are scheduled to start in 2012. In parallel, Rivertop Solutions is identifying all the agricultural by-products in Hawaii that can be used as a feedstock for biofuel production, and assessing the potential positive impacts on Hawaiian farmers and energy security of Hawaiian military.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of tons of fruit and vegetables are culled at the packinghouse and thrown away. Very often, growers don’t even bother to harvest some produce because they know it will be culled at the packinghouse and they don’t want to incur the cost of transporting the fruit. Thus, the percent of wasted produce is often much higher than is reported by packinghouses. This waste is a tremendous economic liability for farmers in Hawaii and the U.S. For example, as much as 40% of the papaya fruit grown in Hawaii are culled at the packing shed putting the industry on shaky financial footing. Tomato and banana farmers suffer from a similar situation.

If a use for culled, and unharvested, fruits and vegetables is found, it could go a long way towards improving the economics of many agricultural industries and securing abundant biomass for green fuel production. In order to make these options available to both crop growers and biofuel producers all over the US, BioTork is improving the metabolic capabilities of various microorganisms to convert different types of biomass into highly valued oil for green fuel production.

Encouraged by the positive results of the first phase of the project, BioTork and PBARC are exploring a further collaboration to increase the yield of lipids from papaya and use of other fruit culls in the State of Hawaii for green fuel production.

Established in 2009, Rivertop Solutions LLC is a Hawaii based system engineering and economic development firm formed to coordinate government and private efforts in rural communities.

The USDA Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center (PBARC) is located in Hilo, Hawaii. Its mission is to conduct research for the development of sustainable agricultural systems and pest management programs in support of Hawaii, the Pacific Basin, and U.S. agricultures.

Created in 2008, BioTork, LLC is a biofuels solution developer based in Gainesville, Florida. The mission of BioTork is to improve the economics and efficiency of existing biofuels production processes and develop of new ones.

USDA Announces Proposed Rules to Improve the Quality of Life and Foster Economic Opportunity for Tribal Communities

Public is Invited to Submit Comments on the Proposed Rule

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the publication of new proposed rules that will significantly increase access to USDA’s utilities programs and funding opportunities for American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders located in Substantially Underserved Trust Areas (SUTA).

USDA“I invite tribal leaders, tribal members, interested citizens and stakeholders to provide their comments and views on this important rule.” said Vilsack. “This rule will provide those located in Trust Areas with better access to infrastructure funding to serve tribal communities seeking to build modern utility infrastructure.”

To develop the propose rule, USDA Rural Development conducted numerous in-person consultations with tribal leaders and native communities throughout the United States as well as in trust areas in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. USDA Rural Development also hosted Internet and teleconference-based webinars to solicit further implementation recommendations for the SUTA initiative. Additionally USDA convened several meetings with Federal agencies – the Departments of Interior, Veterans Affairs, Energy, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and the Office of Management and Budget – to determine how best to implement the SUTA provision.

The deadline to make comments on the SUTA proposed rule is on or before December 13, 2011. For more information, please see the October 14, 2011 issue of the Federal Register.

Under the proposed SUTA rule, the Secretary of Agriculture (with delegation to the Administrator for Rural Utilities Service) would be granted the discretionary authority to:

  • Make loans and issue loan guarantees with interest rates as low as two percent and with extended repayment terms;
  • Waive non-duplication restrictions, matching fund requirements, or credit support requirements from any loan or grant program to facilitate construction, acquisition or improvements of infrastructure
  • Give highest priority to designated projects on a Substantially Underserved Trust Area

Under the SUTA initiative a trust area is legislatively defined as any land that: (1) is held in trust by the United States for Native Americans; (2) is subject to restrictions on alienation imposed by the United States on Indian lands (including native Hawaiian homelands); (3) is owned by a Regional Corporation or a Village Corporation, as such terms are defined in section 3(g) and 3(j) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, respectively (43 U.S.C. 1602(g), (j)); or (4) is on any island in the Pacific Ocean if such land is, by cultural tradition communally-owned land.

The SUTA initiative is authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill. It identifies the need and improves the availability of RUS programs to finance projects in trust areas that have been determined by the Secretary of Agriculture to be substantially underserved. In addition to its discretionary authority to implement the SUTA provisions, RUS must make annual reports to Congress on the progress of the initiative and recommendations for any regulatory or legislative changes appropriate to improve services to Substantially Underserved Trust Areas.

On September 8, President Obama presented the American Jobs Act in an address to Congress. The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: put more people back to work and put more money in the pockets of working Americans. The American Jobs Act is specific. It will put people back to work right now, and it will not add to the deficit. Through a combination of direct spending, such as infrastructure investments, and tax relief, such as an extension of the payroll tax cuts, it will lead to new American jobs.

Since taking office, President Obama’s Administration has taken significant steps to improve the lives of rural Americans and has provided broad support for rural communities. The Obama Administration has set goals of modernizing infrastructure by providing broadband access to 10 million Americans, expanding educational opportunities for students in rural areas, and providing affordable health care. In the long term, these unparalleled rural investments will help ensure that America’s rural communities are repopulating, self-sustaining and thriving economically.

USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, administers and manages housing, business and community infrastructure and facility programs through a national network of state and local offices. Rural Development has an existing portfolio of more than $155 billion in loans and loan guarantees. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America. More information about USDA Rural Development can be found at www.rurdev.usda.gov.