HAWAII KAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Farmers from Kamilonui Valley and their supporters lined Kalanianaole Highway Saturday in a quickly organized sign-waving effort to get their message out. They claim that a proposed lease rent increase will wipe out their small profit margins -- and their farms -- if it takes effect.
"We want to fight for the farmers in Kamilonui Valley," said Judy Nii, whose nursery, R&S Nursery, has been located in the valley for more than 30 years. "There are a lot of small farmers, vegetable farms, some nurseries, and the rent that they're asking for is just so outrageous that none of us can afford it."
Kamehameha Schools, formerly known as Bishop Estate, owns the six acres under Nii's nursery, as well as other small farms in the valley. Currently, those farmers are paying an average of $15 per acre each month. Kamehameha Schools has proposed increasing it to $434 per acre, per month.
Nii's current lease costs her $1,200 a year. "And what they're proposing in my case is $32,000 a year, which is totally unfeasible," Nii said.
The farmers say the lease renegotiation date came due in July, and claim that Kamehameha Schools is now refusing to talk to them. In response, Kamehameha Schools said, in a statement, "We appreciate that the Kamilonui lessees are facing a large rent increase, but we also hope the lessees appreciate that they've been paying extremely favorable rents for 38 years for land that has provided their livelihood and also their residence.
"The lease renegotiation date has been known since the leases were signed, and we have been meeting with he farmers since March," the statement continued. It also said, "We still believe our expired offer was fair."
The farmers fear that such a big rent hike will put them out of business. "What else are we going to do? That's all we know, farming," said farmer Richard Higa.
"I don't think they realize how difficult farming is, and how small our profit margin is," Nii said, "So basically they're asking us to work and give them whatever we make."
Kamehameha Schools said the issue is now going into arbitration. "We believe that the arbitration process will determine a fair price, and we will abide by the arbitrator's decision," its statement said.