PUNA (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Big Island farmer whose fields are buried under lava says the state is still requiring him pay off a $22,000 loan on the land — even though he’s not allowed to step foot on the property.
“The state of Hawaii sanctioned me to farm in lava zone 1. They knew I was in lava zone 1. They financed me," said farmer Gregg Adams, who owns Dragon Fruit Farms — about a mile beyond the checkpoint on Highway 132.
“They had a vested interest in me. Now they’re saying, ‘Oh well, you still own the money.’”
Despite losing everything, Adams says he’s ready to start farming some place new.
However, he says a lack of help has made it all but impossible. Adams has gotten a $34,000 from FEMA to help cover the loss of his home, but has gotten nothing to help cover the loss of his farm.
“May 26th is when the lava took my farm,” Adams said.
“I lost my home. I lost green houses. I lost packing sheds. I lost all my equipment.”
Adams has been farming on Hawaii Island for decades, specializing in dragon fruit and ornamental plants.
But after the eruption claimed his land, he’s resorted to cleaning dog kennels in exchange for a roof over his head.
The county checkpoint is now the closest he can get to 8-acre farm.
In addition to needing special permission from the county, Adams' property is only accessible by crossing a neighbor’s property. Despite that, he continues to pay on his state agriculture loan: $364 a month.
“If I stop paying, my credit will be ruined and it’s going to be worse of a disaster than already exists,” he said.
The state Agriculture Department said it understands Adams' situation, but can’t offer much in the way of help.
“If you got a loan from any financial institution you’re required to pay it back. It’s either that or you go out of business and declare bankruptcy,” said Scott Enright, chairman of the state Department of Agriculture.
He said it’s still unclear exactly how many farmers were affected by the eruption and need help.
But he confirmed a handful have had payments put on hold while they take out more loans in an attempt to get up and running again.
“So we put off any repayments of the loan for a significant period of time,” said Enright.
But when it comes to loan forgiveness, he says it’s not likely — at least not any time soon.
“We don’t have the ability for forgiveness currently," Enright said.
He added that the state Legislature could take up the issue, and that he’d have to speak to the governor and his staff.
Because Adams didn’t have crop insurance and he wasn’t signed up for the NAP program -- HNN confirmed he will need to wait on a decision from Congress to see if he’ll be eligible for any federal assistance.
Meanwhile, Adams says in order for him to rebuild his business he’ll have to ask for forbearance and go in debt close to $500,000. He’s still not sure if that’s something he wants to do.
The state says he’s eligible for a 3 percent emergency loan, but that money is going fast.
“The promises from the politicians don’t seem to be materializing,” said Adams. “This money that’s being appropriated for disaster I would like to know where it’s going.”