'Dead or dying': Lava, toxic gas decimate crops in lower Puna

Updated: May. 16, 2018 at 4:10 PM HST
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The scope of the disaster in Puna includes widespread damage to farms. (Image: Johnson Family...
The scope of the disaster in Puna includes widespread damage to farms. (Image: Johnson Family Farm)

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some Puna farmers and ranchers are starting to see significant losses amid Kilauea's ongoing volcanic activity.

They're dealing with lava, sulfur dioxide, ash, and the loss of access to their properties due to road closures.

Garuda Johnson and his wife have been farming their 20-acre property in Opihikao for about four decades. The poor air quality forced them to move their equipment and personal belongings last week. Two of their sons, who also live on the farm with their families, evacuated as well due to the sulfur dioxide.

The organic farm produces about 15 different vegetable crops. There are also 400 avocado trees, 100 citrus trees, plus breadfruit and coconut trees.

The closest lava fissure is about two miles away. The toxic gas has now destroyed most of their crops.

"I didn't know that it was going to damage the crops like it did," said Johnson. "It was amazing how things were so dead. I was surprised. The vegetables are all dead and the trees are dying now."

The farm's 12 workers are now unemployed. The business has endured setbacks over the years due to weather, but nothing comes close to this disaster.

"I've never really lost the business totally like this, and I've never lost where I've lived so this a double whammy," said Johnson.

Over in Kalapana, Big Island Processing has temporarily stopped producing noni juice and powder because of road closures and air quality concerns.

"With those products, we harvest the yellow fruit and it's sun ripened, so with the air quality I felt that we shouldn't be producing that product," explained owner Roseanna Kanoa.

The USDA's Farm Service Agency administers programs that can assist with recovery.

Ranchers and farmers who've suffered losses are urged to call 808-933-8381, extension 2 for more information.

"(We can) sit down, figure out what happened to them, what kind of losses they got, and then match those losses up with the programs, the tools that I have to help them recover," said Lester Ueda, the agency's county executive director.

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