Andrew Hashimoto, dean and director of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, gave the following testimony to the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee about the potential impacts of laying off Department of Agriculture staff.
I am pleased to provide personal testimony relating to the potential impacts on the community and agricultural industry on the Big Island, arising from the anticipated reduction and possible elimination of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s Plant Quarantine Branch. This testimony does not represent the position of the University of Hawaii or CTAHR.
The Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) has 329 “permanent” employees, of which 118 (approximately 36 percent) have received notices for layoff.
The Plant Quarantine (PQ) Branch will be especially hard hit. It has a total of 78 inspectors and 16 technicians (aides).
Of that, 50 inspectors and two technicians (all general funded) have been given notices. The remainder (11 inspectors and 14 technicians) are paid from special funds.
Most of the inspectors to be laid off will be from the neighbor islands. Information on the number of layoffs for each of the other HDOA branches is not known. The impact of the layoff in the PQ branch is discussed.
1. Hawaii imports over 85 percent of food we eat. This amounts to about 500,000 shipping containers containing 25 million cartons of produce.
All imported fresh produce from the US mainland are inspected by HDOA inspectors. Currently, produce to neighbor islands are inspected by inspectors located on the neighbor islands.
a. Most produce for neighbor island markets will have to be diverted to Oahu for inspection and then delivered to the neighbor islands.
This will result in additional shipping costs and time resulting in higher costs and lower quality produce. Air flown produce will be especially hard hit because of the limited interisland cargo capacity.
This may compromise the inspection process because of the small numbers of Oahu inspectors; added inspection time will be required.
b. In addition, major, high-volume food retailers such as COSTCO have their containers taken directly to the store and inspected on site.
With the reduction of inspectors, these containers will have to be inspected at the docks, where space is very limited and congested, or other centralized location to increase efficiency.
This will result in additional costs and further delays, in addition to delays caused by a smaller inspector force.
c. The economic impact will be devastating. Although authorities will be careful in preventing a food crisis from happening, what might happen is to not do as thorough an inspection or to reduce the percentage of containers inspected.
The fallout from this is the increased risk of introductions of unwanted invasive species.
The least desirable from the mainland is the Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA) which is established in California. Two shipments from California have already been intercepted harboring the RIFA.
Estimated impact to Hawaii if RIFA becomes established in Hawaii is between $15.5 million to $46.1 million annually (Nature Conservancy), not to mention the medical and livestock issues and in having to change peoples’ outdoor activities.
Sudden Oak Death (Phytophthora ramorum) has a wide host range including many in the family Myrtaceae, which includes ohia. Although the susceptibility of ohia to this disease is unknown, many ornamental plants are susceptible to this disease.
2. HDOA regulates export of nursery products (propagative plant materials) to the U.S. mainland and certain foreign countries. The Burrowing Nematode and Orchid Nursery Certification Programs require on-site inspections and monitoring by HDOA staff.
The California-Hawaii Origin Inspection Program for cut flowers and foliage is regulated by HDOA and has nearly 300 certified participants. The HDOA also provide Phytosanitary certificate/inspections are also provided for exported plant materials to foreign countries.
Pest interceptions by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) during the first 6 months of 2009 included shipments of:
* 135 Cut flowers and foliage
* 31 Herbs and vegetables
* 25 Potted plants
* 10 Miscellaneous fruits
CDFA has notified the HDOA that they may shut down all Hawaii exports into California if the pest interceptions on Hawaiian plants and produce are not reduced. Because this has continued for awhile, some permit holders have had their permits cancelled.
Although statewide export data to the different states is not available, it is most likely that the majority of export is to California. The value of export flowers and nursery products is approximately 50 percent of total production of $98.6 million or about $43 million in 2008.
New CDFA declared quarantine pests have put additional inspection and control requirements on growers:
* Coqui Frogs (2008)
* Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM) (2007)
* Asian citrus Psyllid (2008)
* Spotted wing drosophila (aka cherry vinegar fly) (2009)
Impacts: The HDOA will not be able to maintain the required inspections and monitoring necessary to satisfy the requirements of these Certification and Inspection Programs.
CDFA then might decertify these programs and require these products to be inspected through normal, lengthier protocols. The outcome will result in even greater rejections, loss of sales, and growers will need to look for alternate markets or decide to get out of the business.
The value of export flowers and nursery products alone was about $43 million in 2008.
3. Plant Pest Control Branch: Many other recent introductions of plant pests such as the Myoporum thrips, rough sweet potato weevil, Varroa mite, little fire ant, nettle caterpillar, Asian citrus psyllid, macadamia felted coccid, papaya mealybug, giant whitefly, and many invasive weeds have become established in Hawaii.
Thanks to efforts to HDOA, many of these pests remain in localized areas or single islands.
Impacts: Layoffs within the Plant Pest Control Branch (exact numbers are not known but are estimated to be at least 40 percent of current staffing) will significantly affect the State’s ability to contain these pests and to prevent their spread to other parts of the island and to other islands.
The spread of varroa mites to the Kona area of the Big Island will essentially bring a stop to the queen honeybee industry that is worth about $4 million.
Reduction in staffing eliminates the rapid response team to react to sightings and reports of invasive species.
One of the pests that Hawaii has focused on is the brown tree snake (BTS). A rapid reaction team(s) is ready to converge on any potential sighting if and when it appears.
Not having this team readily available makes Hawaii extremely vulnerable to invasions. The economic damage to Hawaii should the BTS become established here is estimated to be between $29 milllion to $405 million. Much of the impact damage is thought to be attributed to damages caused by power interruptions caused by the BTS.
4. Other responsibilities of HDOA: The impact of layoffs on other HDOA responsibilities such as with the Agriculture Development Corporation, Aquaculture Development Program, Agricultural Loan, Agricultural Development, Animal Industry, Quality Assurance programs will also be felt with their capabilities dramatically reduced.
A 36 percent reduction in staff will result in greatly reduced efficacy. The economic impact will be tremendous, but the long term impact on invasive species, lost markets, farmers going out of business, and worse of all, the progress made in agriculture over the last 10 years or more, will be negated and/or compromised.
Agriculture will be set back at least 10 years, and likely more.