October 7, 2014Robert Ito, The Maui News
Called a moratorium, the initiative is really a farming ban.
I have been farming on Maui for 40 years. Among the crops I have grown are head cabbage, Chinese cabbage, romaine lettuce, head lettuce, kale, Maui onions, bell peppers and genetically modified organism sweet corn. All of my crops have been sold to consumers on Maui and around the state.
I started farming in 1974. Many of the farms that were in existence then are now gone. Farming is hard work, and the cost of production increases each year, along with challenges when it comes to water, invasive insects and the weather.
I have grown both conventional and GMO corn. My experience is that the GMO corn used no insecticides, less water and produced a higher yield than the conventionally grown corn. One hundred percent of my conventional corn had corn earworms. The GMO corn contains a Bt gene that kills the corn earworm when it consumes the corn. Bt is the same organic insecticide used in organic farming and that is sprayed on the plants.
I would like to see more young people enter farming of all types. Our agriculture and ranching are as diverse as Maui, and we produce a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and meats. But I fear that many young people will not choose life as a farmer if they are going to come under attack for practices they do not employ or have to answer charges and criticism that are not correct.
Farmers are accused of being spray-happy, drenching their crops with pesticides with no respect for their neighbors, adjacent farmers and the environment. This is not true. Pesticides are expensive and restricted-use pesticides must be applied following strict federal and state regulations by a licensed pesticide applicator. That applicator has taken many hours of instruction and passed a detailed test to qualify for the position. No farmer that I know wants to spend more money than he or she has to when raising a crop. Expensive pesticides are applied conservatively and only when needed.
Much of the discussion about farming and longtime farming practices on Maui is coming from folks who have never farmed and who don’t understand what takes place on a farm. That may be why they want to pass an initiative that would make criminals of farmers with civil penalties of up to $50,000 and criminal penalties of $2,000 per day, with each day counting as a separate offense.
Every day the world’s population grows larger, and arable land and clean water are decreasing in supply each year. How are we going to feed millions more in the years ahead in the face of this reality?
I support my fellow farmers on Maui. That includes organic, conventional, GMO, hydroponic and greenhouse farmers, folks growing vegetables in their backyards and anyone else who wants to experience the miracle of agriculture and the pride that comes from feeding our community. The proposed initiative will force many long-standing farming practices to cease until the initiative approves them to continue.
Called a moratorium, the initiative is really a farming ban with no timeline for reopening any closed farm. The initiative is specific in its enforcement provisions, which apply to “any person or entity” (Page 7, section 5, number 1). No exceptions are made for small farms, large farms or gardens. The initiative may be well intended but it is bad public policy, harms Maui farmers and puts hundreds of people out of work.
I invite everyone to join me in voting no on the Maui farming ban initiative. Remember, a blank ballot is not a vote – it is a ballot that is not counted.
Robert Ito is the president of Robert Ito Farms Inc. in Kula.
via Letter to the Editor: Initiative is bad public policy – Stop The Maui Farming Ban.