Biotech Ag in Hawaii

p1010070Hawaii has been the gateway for the future of worldwide agriculture through the efforts of our local seed industry. Virtually all of the products that our member companies sell spend some of their development time in Hawaii. The seed industry is growing and now valued at a record high $146.3 million according to the Hawaii Ag Statistics Service—a 42% increase from 2006.

According to an economic analysis commissioned by the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, the Hawaii seed industry contributes approximately $144 million of economic activity to our state’s economy. This translates to $13.8million in annual taxes to the state, $137 million in annual labor income, and more than 2,500 jobs.

Demand by farmers for improved hybrid corn has made Hawaii’s expanding seed industry the number one agricultural commodity in the state. Hawaii based seed corn companies increase supplies of inbred parent lines for currently popular varieties and produce hybrid seeds via controlled field pollination work to enable plant breeders to find even better performing varieties.

All work is focused on enabling plant breeders to improve yield, drought tolerance, disease resistance and quality of crops grown by farmers around the world.

Biotechnology and Hawaii’s Papaya Industry

papaya-fieldThe Papaya Ring Spot Virus (PRSV) was identified on Oahu in the 1940s and became a significant threat to the industry in the 1950s. The industry was moved to the then virus-free island of Hawaii where it thrived in the Puna region, producing 95% of Hawaiian papaya in the state. However, it was clear that the virus would eventually infest the island of Hawaii. Commercial production of papaya on the Big Island dropped 50% from 53 million pounds in 1992—when the ringspot virus hit—to 25 million pounds in 1999.

Fortunately for Hawaii, research had already begun on developing a disease-resistant papaya—the Rainbow Papaya—by Cornell researcher and Kamehameha Schools graduate, Dr. Dennis Gonsalves. Once seeds were available to growers, adoption was rapid. Within the first year, 98% of Puna growers had registered to receive the Rainbow Papaya seed, and 73% were growing it. By the second year, 56% of the fruit-bearing acreage was transgenic. The availability of GE papaya brought struggling growers back into the papaya business and by 2003, production in the region had rebounded to 40 million pounds per year.

Cross Pollination of Genetically Engineered Crops in Hawaii

The papaya seed planted determines the type of fruit on the tree. If the tree is genetically engineered, so is the fruit from the tree. If the seed is not genetically engineered, the fruit won’t be either. If a person growing papaya wants to make sure they have seeds to produce a particular color, shape, or a variety of fruit, they would follow the usual and customary horticultural practice of covering or “bagging” flowers to produce the seed of the desired type.

Biotech plants in Hawaii cannot cross-pollinate with indigenous species, so they do not threaten the purity of our native varieties. Pollen movement and gene exchange between compatible plants is a well-understood and natural occurrence, especially in commodity agriculture. Regulatory authorities carefully examine the potential for spread of genes from biotech crops to native plants before biotech crops are authorized for commercial use.

What are we doing about Biofuels in Hawaii?

The third goal of the Hawaii 2050 initiative is to ensure that “our natural resources are responsibly and respectfully used, replenished and preserved for future generations.” Therefore we want to move towards initiatives that encompass environmental quality, prosperity and preservation. Biofuels will help Hawaii fulfill this goal.

Currently, Hawaii imports nearly all of its fuel—about 95% of which is coal or oil. Transportation (gas and diesel) makes up 48% of our total energy consumption. Nowhere in the world will the effects of biofuels adoption have a more immediate and positive effect than our State.

The 2050 sustainability plan clearly states that Hawaii will encourage the production and use of locally produced biofuels as a strategic action aimed at reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Legislators have already taken steps to back this initiative by passing bills like HB2863, which allows for expedited permitting of renewable energy projects.