Farmers in lava's path seek assistance after devastating crop losses

(Image: Kamaili Nursery)
(Image: Kamaili Nursery)

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Puna farmers affected by the volcanic activity on Hawaii Island were set to meet Monday night to learn about the assistance programs that are being available to them lava damages their crops – and their bottom line.

The deputy chairperson of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture was expected to discuss state agricultural loans and disaster assistance funds during the gathering, which was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Pahoa High School cafeteria.

Afa Tuaolo and his wife have been growing flowers – mainly orchids – for about 35 years. High levels of sulfur dioxide in the air recently wiped out their crop at Kamaili Nursery.

"I can't even sell anything now. It's just all burnt or diseased out now," said Tuaolo.

After a couple of slow years, Tuaolo expected this year's crop to provide a big boost. Now, the nursery is facing a huge financial setback.

U.H. Manoa's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources recently set up a web page with information on volcanic emissions.

"The potential impact is very difficult for a lot of the farmers right now. It's a lot of stress, just the uncertainty of how long it's going to last," said Kelvin Sewake, CTAHR's interim associate dean.

The college is also waiving fees for soil and water testing services for those affected by the eruption, including farmers, ranchers, and homeowners with water catchment systems. For more information, call the Komohana Research and Extension Center in Hilo at (808) 981-5199.

"We do test for heavy metals, we test for those kinds of elements that could be part of the volcanic activity as a subsequent impact," said Sewake.

Closer to Kilauea's summit, Volcano Winery just finished the flowering season for its grapes. The elevated levels of sulfur dioxide caused the loss of about 15 percent of the crop. The biggest hit, however, has been a 50 percent drop in guests this month.

"The main impact has been with visitors," said general manager Alex Wood. "A lot of visitors are staying away from Volcano, not aware that it's not all that bad. With the trade winds blowing, the air quality is good."

Any crop losses should be reported to the U.S.D.A Farm Service Agency. Call (808) 933-8381 ext. 2 for more information.

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