October 4, 2023

The Maui News

New state laws will allow agricultural park lease extensions on Neighbor Islands, increase fines for pesticide violations and fight invasive pests like coffee borer beetles and little fire ants.

Gov. Josh Green signed several agricultural-related bills into law on Wednesday, which he said aim to improve food security in a state that imports around 85 percent of the food it eats, according to the Governor’s Office.

“The bills being signed today expand the role of agriculture across our islands, which also will enhance farmers’ resiliency and ability to fully use their agriculturally zoned lands to produce both food- and non-food commodities, without barriers resulting from expired restrictions,” Green said in a news release Wednesday.

One of the measures, House Bill 307, now Act 213, allows the state Department of Agriculture to extend the agricultural park lease of any lessee who has a remaining term of 15 years or less, if the land covered by the lease is 25 acres or less and located in a county with a population of less than 500,000. This means all of the Neighbor Islands, as Honolulu City and County is the only county with more than 500,000 residents.

Other bills aim to help local farmers and scientists battle invasive pests — Senate Bill 1552, now Act 217, appropriates funds to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to support the Hawai’i Ant Lab in mitigating the effects of little fire ants in the state. The ant, which can leave both people and animals with painful stings, has been detected on Maui, Lanai, Kauai, Oahu and Hawaii island.

Senate Bill 743, now Act 216, extends the Coffee Berry Borer and Coffee Leaf Rust Pesticide Subsidy Program to June 30, 2025 and puts aside more funds for the program. The beetle has been found on Maui, Lanai, Kauai, Oahu and Hawaii island and has caused some Maui farmers to lose large portions of their coffee yield.

Locally produced coffee could also get a boost through Senate Bill 746, now Act 211, which expands the coffee labeling and advertising requirements to include ready-to-drink coffee beverages and the inner packages and inner wrapping labels of roasted coffee, instant coffee and ready-to-drink coffee beverages.

Specialty agricultural products only require that 10 percent of the product originate in a geographic area like Maui or Kona in order for it to be used on the label, which “damages and degrades the reputation of world-famous Hawaii-grown coffees,” the state Legislature said. The new measure, which takes effect July 1, 2024, would clarify labeling and advertising requirements for ready-to-drink coffee that is 100 percent Hawaii grown and processed or a blend. It would also prohibit the use of the term “all Hawaiian” in labeling or advertising for roasted coffee or instant coffee not produced entirely from green coffee beans grown and processed in Hawaii.

Another agricultural-related measure, House Bill 692, now Act 220, would increase maximum penalties for violators of Hawaii’s pesticides law. Administrative penalties could go as high as $10,000 per offense, while criminal penalties could go up to $35,000, depending on the circumstances.

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