Hawaii volcano emissions prompt federal disaster declaration

Hawaii volcano emissions prompt federal disaster declaration
Phil & Merle Becker
Phil & Merle Becker

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

WASHINGTON (HawaiiNewsNow) – Gases in the volcanic fog, or vog, from Kilauea volcano are killing crops and costing Big Island farmers millions of dollars, but help is on the way.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared Hawaii County a natural disaster area. The designation means farmers there can apply for low interest loans from the federal government.

It is estimated that 2,000 to 2,500 metric tons of sulfur dioxide billows from Kilauea's Halemaumau Crater on any given day.

The vog leaves leafy greens less than leafy. Flowers are not as colorful or healthy as they should be.

"We can wash our trucks in the morning and in the afternoon you rub your hand across the top of the truck and it feels like sand paper," said Phil Becker. Becker and his wife Merle own Aikane Plantation Coffee Company near Pahala on the Big Island's South side.

The Beckers used to grow and sell protea, but the vog smothered that part of their business.

"We've only got about three plants left after about 181 is what we started with and we've only got three that are trying to survive. It's also impacted our cattle as far as the grass not recovering the way it usually does," Phil Becker told Hawaii News Now.

These days the Beckers are focusing their efforts on growing coffee ... and even that is suffering. This year's crop is about a third the size of a normal crop.

The vog not only blankets plants with sulfur, it fills the air with microscopic particles that block needed sunshine.

The USDA's disaster proclamation means qualified farmers on the Big Island can borrow as much as $500,000 at a 3.75 percent interest rate.

"We hope that the loans will be able to help the farmers because most of them are really impacted by this. And the income that they are planning on surviving on is not there and the expenses that they have just to keep their heads above water is atrocious. It's really bad," Becker said.

Farmers interested in applying for a loan should contact the Farm Service Agency on the Big Island by calling 933-8341.

Copyright 2009 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

Photo source: David Yee