Thousands of papaya trees destroyed on Big Island

Thousands of papaya trees destroyed on Big Island
Laureto Julian
Laureto Julian

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

KAPOHO, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Big Island farmer is devastated by the destruction of thousands of his papaya trees at the hands of vandals.

Laureto Julian says his farm has been in his family for decades, and that nothing of this magnitude has ever happened. He's afraid that if he plants again, the vandals will be back.

Trees chopped in half. Leaves and fruit scattered throughout. It's the kind of destruction a hurricane might leave.

"I cry because this is my life, my family's life," Julian said.

Big Island police say vandals destroyed about 8,500 papaya trees on Julian's 17-acre farm in Kapoho Wednesday. All his hard work -- wiped out.

"We raising this for about 18 months," he said. "A lot of work and a lot of money to expand for this one."

The trees ranged in height from six to 10 feet and bore Rainbow and SunUp papaya, which are genetically-engineered varieties of the fruit.

"Don't have virus and more easy to take care," Julian said. "Since we had this variety, I don't have any trouble."

The damage is estimated at $100,000.

"Because of the monetary impact on the farmer, we're going to be looking very deeply into this," Lt. Glenn Uehana, Hawaii County Police Department, said. "This case will be eventually routed to our Criminal Investigation Section for detectives to follow up."

It's eerily similar to a May 25th incident on Oahu. Vandals hacked nearly 400 papaya trees at a farm in Mililani. No one's been arrested.

It appears in both cases, the goal wasn't to steal the fruit.

"Just bearing papaya trees take a year and you've invested thousands of dollars per acre to get it up to that point," Delan Perry, Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, said. "Loss market in the meantime is all going to have long-term effects."

Julian has been farming papaya for 30 years. He says this crime also affects his three employees and the stores he supplies the fruit to.

"Hopefully, whoever did this, please don't do it again because it really hurt me and all the farmers," he said.

Because of the monetary loss, the case is classified as first-degree criminal property damage. A person convicted could face up to 10 years in prison.

If you have any information about this case, call Keaau police at 966-5835 or Hilo Crimestoppers at 961-8300.

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