Hawaii's agriculture industry is set to establish a strong position in world markets with new legislation to help farmers, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Wednesday.
Abercrombie signed seven agriculture-related bills during a ceremony at the Hawaii Capitol. He said he thinks the Hawaii label will give products instant credibility and add value.
"It'll be iconic," he said. "I really believe that Hawaii agriculture is going to take a premiere position in the world economy."
The new legislation includes $250,000 to fight coffee berry borer infestations, $75,000 for the Future Farmers of America program and an expansion of subsidies for livestock feed.
The feed subsidies will help local farm operations stay viable and competitive with food suppliers from the U.S. mainland, lawmakers said in the bill. According to the bill, two dairies and four egg farms have closed in the last six years because of the rising cost of livestock feed.
"The closures heighten the state's dependence on imported foods and threaten the state's food security and ability to achieve adequate levels of agricultural self-sufficiency," said the bill introduced by Sen. Clarence Nishihara, a Democrat representing Waipahu and other nearby areas.
Another bill authorizes the state's housing programs to develop incentives for housing projects that incorporate urban gardening programs.
Other bills fund improvements to irrigation systems, expand building permit exemptions for commercial farms and ranches, and expand loan programs for farmers.
Nishihara said in a statement that one of the main concerns of keeping Hawaii agriculture sustainable is a lack of agricultural entrepreneurs.
"This measure helps provide Hawaii's emerging farmers with the capital they need to start their farming operations and be innovative in testing new crops or techniques," he said.
Abercrombie said he is most enthusiastic about appropriating funds to the Education Department for teaching kids about farming. He says it's a modest down payment for the program to prove itself.
The bill signing came on the governor's 75th birthday, which he said was fitting because agricultural is about rebirth and renewal.
"Somebody told me 75 is the new 40," Abercrombie said. "I said, 'No, it isn't.'"
Oskar Garcia can be reached at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia .