USDA Presents National Honor to DLNR Specialist for Forestry Conservation

The US Department of Agriculture’s prestigious Two Chiefs’ Award was presented today to M. Irene Sprecher of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Left to right is William Aila; Christine Clarke, Acting Director for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the Pacific Islands Area; M. Irene Sprecher, award recipient; Diane Ley, Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency; and Randy Moore, Pacific Southwest Regional Forester from the US Forest Service.  Photo by Jolene Lau, NRCS.

Left to right is William Aila; Christine Clarke, Acting Director for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the Pacific Islands Area; M. Irene Sprecher, award recipient; Diane Ley, Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency; and Randy Moore, Pacific Southwest Regional Forester from the US Forest Service. Photo by Jolene Lau, NRCS.

The Two Chiefs’ Award is a national award that is presented annually to recognize people and teams that work collaboratively to support conservation and forest stewardship.  Award winners are selected by the Chiefs of the USDA Forest Service (USFS) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Ms. Sprecher played a lead role in the development of the “Collaboration on Forestry Related Program Delivery in Hawaii” Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the USDA NRCS, the US Forest Service, the Hawaii Association of Conservation Districts and the State’s Department of Land and Natural Resources – signed May 19, 2011.  This MOU was derived from the National MOU that is used for the same purpose and was signed September 29, 2008.

Since the implementation of the Hawaii MOU, the partners have significantly improved their communication and interaction with each other, and cooperated to coordinate the delivery of several Landowner Assistance Programs in Hawai’i (see http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/forestry/lap/  for more information).

Through this MOU, a landowner who obtains an approved Forest Stewardship Program management plan may access multiple programs for forestry conservation assistance – Forest Stewardship Program, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and/or the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP).  This has significantly streamlined the process for landowners to access assistance funding, while simultaneously improved the collaboration among agencies and efficiency of their programs.

While this MOU is in place at the national level, not all states have implemented a state-level process, and most of those that have received some financial support to make it happen. Hawai’i has accomplished all of this with no extra funding provided by or given to any of its MOU partners.  The MOU partners are involving existing staff only and are motivated simply to improve all aspects of private landowner assistance in Hawaii through increased cooperation.

Also, through a grant written by Ms. Sprecher, the Hawaii MOU partners were awarded $250,000 in January 2013 from a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant.  These funds will provide needed resources for statewide planning and outreach to private forest landowners.  Two full time staff were hired in August, 2013, to increase the number of CREP projects, complete more NRCS Conservation Plans, strengthen interactions with partner agencies, and generally support sustainable management of Hawaii’s forest resources.

Finally, Ms. Sprecher was instrumental in the Fiscal Year 2007 and 2008 Kealakekua Heritage Ranch Forest Legacy applications for the acquisition of two conservation easements.   She was also the primary author for the Fiscal Year 2010 Kainalu Ranch and the Fiscal Year 2012 Kukaiau Koa Forest applications to the Forest Legacy Program. She was recently promoted, as well, and now runs the FSP and FLP programs in Hawaii.

Ms. Sprecher was a major contributor towards the establishment of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (see factsheet, attached) in Hawaii.  That process required extensive collaboration and negotiation with national and local partners in order to customize the program to best serve Hawaii, and to obtain all the required approvals. In addition, she has been very cooperative in modifying the Hawaii Forest Stewardship Program (supported via State and USFS funding) to come into alignment with the conservation practices, technical specifications and cost share rates associated with NRCS’s EQIP.  Similarly to the Forest Stewardship Program’s management plans, this has made various Federal and State forestry conservation assistance programs work in parallel, with a consistent look and process for our prospective cooperators.

“We are very pleased to jointly present this award,” said Randy Moore, U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Regional Forester.  “This really illustrates our all-lands approach in working across boundaries to optimize our efforts.  This hard work which continues today is vital to the health of our island’s forests in Hawaii and beyond.”

“I am so happy to recognize her and this multi-agency public-private approach to solving a critical resource problem on our forest lands,” said NRCS Acting Director Christine Clarke. “This work exemplifies good stewardship.”

“Ms. Sprecher has proven to be an extremely valuable partner for the USDA as part of our Hawaii Joint Forestry MOU. She worked very closely with NRCS to get forestry conservation projects on the ground and information out to potential clients. She’s collaborated with Ms. Katie Friday, of USFS, to get funding out for Forest Stewardship Plans. She is very worthy of this award for her contributions to USFS and NRCS here in Hawaii,” Clarke said.

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.

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

Waimea Gets Funds From USDA High Energy Cost Grant Program

Agriculture Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager today announced funding to help reduce energy costs for residents of remote rural areas where the cost of producing electricity is extremely high. The funds are being provided through USDA’s High Energy Cost Grant program.

USDA Rural Development

The program is administered by USDA Rural Development’s Rural Utilities Service. Recipients use funds to improve energy generation, transmission or distribution facilities that serve communities where the average residential cost for home energy exceeds 275 percent of the national average. Grants are available to businesses, non-profit entities, states, local governments and federally recognized Indian tribes.

For example, two neighboring communities in rural Alaska will receive funding to complete an eight mile electrical connection (intertie). The connection will stabilize power costs for the residents of the predominantly Alaska Native communities of New Stuyahok and Ekwok. In Kamuela, Hawaii funds will be used to purchase a methane gas-fired generator to provide electricity to a produce processing facility and commercial kitchen.

The funding announced today totals more than $9.3 million. Funding for individual recipients is contingent upon their meeting the conditions of the grant agreement.

Alaska

  • Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, Inc.; $2,520,000 – Funding will enable construction of an electrical connection between New Stuyahok and Ekwok. The eight-mile electrical intertie will stabilize energy costs.
  • Denali Commission, $2,500,000; Funding will support Denali Commission assistance to the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative as it constructs an electrical intertie between the communities of Stebbins and Saint Michael.
  • City of Coffman Cove, $175,000; Funding will be used to provide a renewable energy interconnection to part of the City of Coffman Cove that currently generates its own electricity because it is not connected to the grid.

Hawaii

  • Rivertop Solutions LLC, $365,000; Funding will be used to purchase a 225 kW methane gas-fired generator. The generator will consume methane produced by an existing digester and provide electricity to a produce processing facility and a commercial kitchen. The project is designed to support the Native Hawaiian farming community on the Waimea Hawaii Homestead.

Maine

  • Monhegan Plantation Power District, $420,154; Funding will be used to replace the current switchgear, add a smaller, 40 kW generator to the power station’s fleet, and add a 13 kW solar array to the power station’s roof to support a community located 12 miles off the coast of Maine.

Massachusetts

  • Town of Gosnold, $2,146,375; Funding will be used to construct a renewable solar energy system for the community of Cuttyhunk Island. The town’s electricity is currently provided solely by oil powered generators and the proposed project will reduce fuel consumption by an estimated 50 percent.

Republic of the Marshall Islands

  • Island Economic and Environmental Co., $1,000,786; Funding will be used to aid the rural un-electrified Arno Atoll; providing solar powered lighting and refrigeration to 75 households in five communities.

Chuuk State, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

  • Chuuk Public Utility Company, $189,200; Funding will be used to design, procure, install, and commission an automatic capacitor bank that will save 870,000 kWh/year (or $240,000/year). The utility serves the 14,000 residents of Weno Island.

For information on Rural Development loans and grants to other rural businesses and individuals, visit Rural Development’s new interactive web map featuring program funding and success stories for fiscal years 2009-2011. The data can be found at: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/RDSuccessStories.html.

President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities.

USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, has an active portfolio of more than $174 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.

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.

 

Hawai’i County Drought Conditions Warrant Natural Disaster Designation

Federal Relief Offered to Area Farmers and Ranchers

Governor Neil Abercrombie today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated Hawai’i County as a primary natural disaster area resulting from ongoing drought conditions. The Governor last month applied for the designation, which clears the way for Hawai’i Island farmers and ranchers to apply for available federal relief.

“By designating Hawai’i County a natural disaster area, President Obama and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have recognized that the island’s farmers and ranchers have endured enough,” said Governor Abercrombie. “Even today, Big Island residents continue to experience drought conditions ranging from severe to extreme. The USDA’s assistance will help hard working families recover losses and see it through until conditions improve.”

“A drought can be as catastrophic as a hurricane or flood to a farmer or rancher,” said Russell Kokubun, chairperson of the Hawai’i Board of Agriculture.  “This disaster assistance is a lifeline for many of our agriculture producers who have been dealing with severe drought conditions for over six years. We truly appreciate this support from the USDA.”

Hawai’i County was formally designated a natural disaster area on Jan. 18, 2012. Qualified farm operators in the designated area are eligible for low interest emergency (EM) loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to cover losses. Eligible individuals have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply. FSA considers each loan application on its own merits. Additional information is available online at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.

According to the National Weather Service, leeward slopes of Hawai’i Island continue to receive little rain. As a result, a classification of “extreme drought” persists in the South Kohala District and Pokakula Region of the Hamakua District. Increased rainfall has resulted in recent improvement from extreme drought in other areas, but the Ka’u and North Kona Districts remain within severe drought parameters. Moderate drought remains over parts of the South Kona District. Pastures and general vegetation from Kawaihae to Pohakuloa are described as being in “very poor” condition, and brush fires continue to be a concern.

Top 10 Hawaii Agricultural Commodities

The number one agricultural commodity in Hawaii according to a recent USDA report are Seed Crops with the value of production at about $247 million dollars.

…Hawaii’s tropical climate and rich soil provide excellent conditions for growing coffee. In 2010, farmers in Hawaii harvested 6,300 acres of coffee. Production totaled 8.8 million pounds of coffee, valued at $33.4 million. The weather and growing conditions also allow taro, a crop deeply engrained in Hawaiian cultural and agricultural traditions, to flourish.  In 2010, Hawaiian farmers harvested 475 acres of taro, producing 3.9 million pounds (fresh and processed) of the root vegetable valued at $2.5 million.

The lush agricultural fields in Hawaii hold another distinction, as they provide an extensive network of solar panels and wind turbines. According to USDA’s On-Farm Renewable Energy Production Survey, Hawaii ranks third in the United States for the number of agricultural operations producing on-farm renewable energy. This is a tremendous accomplishment for our state that Hawaiian producers take pride in as they strive to be stewards of the land and our natural resources. In 2009, a total of 43 farms reported using wind turbines on their operations and 520 farms reported using solar panels. Farmers reported saving an average $2,125 on their utility bill in 2009 as a result of such on-farm renewable energy measures…

Statistics provided by the USDA

This information highlighting on-farm renewable energy production was gathered for the first time as a follow-on survey to the last Census of Agriculture.   To learn more about Hawaiian agriculture, subscribe to NASS Hawaii agriculture statistics reports online.

Full Story Here: Hawaii Showcases Its Ag Diversification – The Proof is in the Numbers

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.

Department of Agriculture Announces Tax Information Meetings for Big Island Farmers

Two workshops with tax information for Hawaii growers will be held this week on Hawaii Island:

Waimea: Waimea Civic Center Conference Room
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
5:30-7:30 pm

Hilo: Komohana Research and Extension Center – Conference Room
Thursday, January 12, 2012
5:30-7:30 pm

The workshops are open to Hawaii agricultural producers. Please RSVP to Didi at (808) 938-1719 to help ensure adequate provisions and handouts and a way for us to contact you in case there are any changes.

The workshops are produced by Risk Management Hawaii and LIFE program are grant funded collaborative projects between UH CTAHR and the USDA Risk Management Agency.