Farmers face uncertain future as tourism remains shut down

Hawaii farmers are struggling to survive coronavirus pandemic

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Before the shutdown, Hawaii farmers depended heavily on tourism. Hotels and restaurants that catered to visitors were there bread and butter, so to speak.

But with tourism halted and restaurants offering takeout only, many of them are now struggling to survive.

“Many local farmers have lost their customers, their cash flow and had to lay off workers. Some are in danger of shutting down, shutting down forever,” said Brian Miyamoto, Hawai’i Farm Bureau executive director.

Miyamoto pleaded with the state House Committee on COVID-19 recently for support, saying that many Hawaii farmers are struggling to make ends meet and some could be forced to shut down entirely.

He said on the Big Island, there are upwards of 200,000 pounds of papaya that can’t be sold.

Pacific Produce Inc. on Maui used to produce 100,000 pounds of lettuce a month.

Owner Geoffrey Haines said 70% of their product went to restaurants.

“Shutting down forever I’m hoping is not going to happen. But the future is just uncertain right now,” Haines said, adding he was lucky to score a federal forgivable loan to keep his 18 employees on the job.

“My employees are like family that have been working for me for years and it’s hard because we got maybe eight more weeks ... before we would have to start laying people off,” Haines said.

Meanwhile, some local grocery stores are also now beginning to limit meat purchases after some processing plants on the mainland shutdown because thousands of workers contracted COVID-19.

Keith Unger, president of the Hawai’i Cattlemen’s Council, says it highlights the need for more local production.

“The local ranchers providing to the local consumer about 12%. So consequently, we’re importing about 88%,” said Unger. “Our vision as a cattle industry is to provide more local cattle to the local market.”

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