Farmers add up losses from Iselle

Farmers add up losses from Iselle

PUNA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow)

When Iselle broadsided the Big Island it barreled through through papaya farms in Puna and neighboring communities. Some estimate losses for papaya farmers at over $50 million.

"Most of the papaya production is in that area," said Diane Ley, executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Hawaii.

The agency is trying to figure out which farms sustained the heaviest damage to determine who qualifies for loans.

"We see pictures, some fields look like they may be 100 percent. Some may be 15 percent. So some producers may qualify and others may not, unfortunately," she said.

At Puna Orchids Inc., Iselle cost owners about $100,000 in lost sales and structural damage.

"We had broken water lines. We had lost maybe 30% or 40% of our plastic on our green houses here. Not a lot we could do," company president Gordon Inouye said.

Asia Pacific Flowers has no electricity or phone service.

"You have to work in the dark. You cannot communicate getting your orders or changing your order, especially from the mainland," Imelda Pitpit said.

Coffee and macadamia nut growers were also hurt. Macadamia farmers will feel the impact for years.

"A macadamia nut tree gets planted and you don't start harvesting for seven to ten years," Ley said.

She said the USDA can help with a tree replanting program and other assistance.

"For existing borrowers with us we can modify their loans. We can extend their payments out, get them back up and running," Ley said.

In the meantime, Big Island farmers will improvise.

"It's hard but nothing we can do. We'll have to wait," Pitpit said.

"We are able to get some shipments out yesterday by loading it up into our van and hauling it up to Pahoa where we could meet the UPS driver and we'll probably do the same thing today," Inouye said.

Even with state and federal help it will be awhile before farmers impacted by Iselle get back on their feet.

The State Department of Agriculture is encouraging farmers to take photographs of their damage to the state's Disaster Assistance Recovery Centers. They'll be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Pahoa Community Center, then Saturday and Sunday at Mountain View Gym. The information will help the state determine emergency loans.

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