Oahu is Hawaii’s Breadbasket
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
Most people in Hawaii have heard we import approximately 90% of our food, yet many people
may not realize the vast majority of locally‐grown food is grown on Oahu.
Hawaii’s two largest produce farms and the majority of mid‐sized farms are located on Oahu.
One farm harvests over a million pounds of produce each week. While some farms sell high-end
produce to select locations, most produce goes to outlets like Costco, Subway, and other
places where we all rely on low‐cost, nutritious food.
Oahu farms are productive and remain competitive with imported produce for two reasons.
First, they are close to the state’s largest market and population center. Farmers drive their
product to market cheaply and quickly, where it is fresher and lasts longer than imported
produce. Second, the scant acreage of farmland remaining on Oahu contains some of the best
soils in the state and access to water, resulting in very productive farms.
Despite these successes and the potential for expanding local food production, Hawaii
agriculture is at a tipping point. Hoopili will displace a significant amount of active farm land
and Koa Ridge will displace even more. The Oahu General Plan calls for additional housing in
the primary urban centers and preservation of agriculture on Oahu’s North Shore.
Large and mid‐sized Oahu farms have been unable to obtain long‐term land leases on most of
the private lands on which they operate. This is not due to any business failure – any farm
steadily producing thousands to a million pounds of produce a week is a solid business. This is
because the land owners can make a greater profit if the land is, now or later, developed for
Oahu does not have much farm land left; less than 17% of the island is usable Agricultural land.
Perhaps 10% is located in the Oahu breadbasket with the soil, water, infrastructure and access
to markets. In contrast, nearly 30% of the island is classified Urban, with the remaining lands in
the mountains and other Conservation areas.
Dole Food Company, the last Oahu plantation with significant land holdings, is now selling
16,000 acres of agricultural and conservation lands in the middle of this breadbasket. If we
take a passive approach, these lands may ultimately be sold to investors who have no interest
in agricultural production, but would rather develop gentlemen estates, fake farms or suburban
Historically, zoning and land use regulations have had marginal success in limiting housing
developments on agricultural lands. But even if they can stop development, zoning cannot
force an owner into agricultural production. What we need are working farms with long‐term
leases that allow them to invest in their business, and sufficient land to produce the steady
crops our market demands.
We have an opportunity to achieve this goal by purchasing the best agricultural lands on the
market today, and providing long‐term leases to active farms. The timing is right because
interest rates remain at historical lows and land values will not be cheaper in the future.
State acquisition of 8000 acres of high quality agricultural lands from Dole will help fulfill our
Constitutional mandate to “conserve and protect agricultural lands, promote diversified
agriculture, increase agricultural self‐sufficiency and assure the availability of agriculturally
suitable lands.” Let’s do this.