In the Land of Sun & Sand

Last fall I saw the announcement for the Views from the Farm essay contest sponsored by the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association (HCIA). Farmers were asked to write an essay explaining how biotechnology works on their farms. The winners received a trip to the Aloha State where they would tell their farm story, and then have time to “hang loose”, tour the island, lay on the beach, drink a mai tai, hula at a luau (that comes after the mai tai), and in general, vacation.  Not something many farmers consider.My Farmer, however, issued the directive to write an essay.  So I did and was notified in January that we were heading to Hawaii.  A-lo-HA!

The beauty of the islands.

The beauty of the islands.

Joining us were four other farming couples with very different farm stories to tell.  You can read their essays at

Here’s some background: The HCIA is a non-profit trade organization representing the seed industry.  Its member companies include Monsanto, Dow AgroScience, Syngenta, Pioneer and BASF.  These companies are using the amazing island climate to study and research the viability of new hybrids, biotechnologies and best management practices. They can pull three trials off their plots in a year.  The HCIA website has even more information about the history of the organization, its mission, purpose, and activities.

Talking about our farm and the fact that we do use biotechnologies has become part of what I do, not only as a Face of Farming & Ranching for the US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, but as a farmer who is engaged in what is becoming a respectful, civil, two-way conversation about food production in our country.  So, telling our story to one more audience who just happen to reside in Hawaii didn’t seem like a big deal.

Upon arrival we met Alicia Maluafiti, executive director of the HCIA, and quickly learned this would not be a conversation but a desperate effort to connect the islands’ seed industry to the end-users – farmers on the mainland and world-wide consumers.

I say desperate because the anti-movement on the islands is loud and extreme, organizing rallies and marches instead of sharing a table and a civil discussion with seed industry supporters.  Last week activists burned two tractors at the only sugarcane farm left on the islands.  (See comments section for more information about the whos, whats and whys of tractor burnings on Maui).  We spoke to employees of the HCIA member companies and learned that many are receiving threats against their families and properties.

Because of threats to his farm, one high-profile farmer is cancelling interviews and reconsidering his role in farm organizations. Another individual told us she had purchased a gun for protection at her home.

The arguments against the seed industry are steeped in the history of the Hawaiian Islands, but also in the anti-Monsanto, anti-gmo rhetoric that grips so much of the food conversation today.  Opponents want the seed industry ousted and good riddance to the jobs, tax dollars and any environmental stewardship it provides. They want the land to be used toward a more sustainable Hawaii, raising food to support the island residents as well as the millions of tourists who visit each year.

Here’s a few “by the numbers” points:

  • Hawaii currently imports 80 to 90 percent of its food.
  • 1,110,000 acres of its land is considered arable, and of that the seed industry covers just five percent.
  • Currently 7,500 farmers farm on the island raising mostly nursery crops, vegetables and fruits.
  • More than 7,627,000 people visit the islands each year, and this number is from 2007.

I still can’t quite wrap my mind around the volatile situation we discovered and am dumbfounded that we are talking about Hawaii, the fiftieth state, fellow Americans who live, breathe and work under the same pillars of democracy and freedom that I do.  Yet the rage against the machine mentality is like a freight train careening along the tracks. No brakes.

Obviously, there is so much more to share.  In future blog posts, I’ll introduce you to Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, a Hawaiian scientist who engineered the transgenic papaya and saved an island industry. I’ll also introduce the activists, including the group Babes Against Biotech. You can google them if you want. I’ll also spend some time on the importance of Hawaii and its seed industry to me as a farmer and as an American.

Follow this series:

In the Land of Sun & Sand: Part 2

13 responses to “In the Land of Sun & Sand

  1. Ms. Pratt, you are extremely irresponsible for claiming that anti-gmo people burned HC&S equipment. Please cite your source or retract.

    • Ms Chun – Thank you for reading. I appreciate your insight into the tractor-burning that occurred while our group was visiting. We heard about this incident from a variety of people, actually, including media and our hosts. It was shocking to hear of and having already been involved in a few volitale conversations with people of from anti-biotech groups, I did lump that in with those situations. Thank you for your comment.

  2. Ms Pratt – burning vehicles in the cane fields is a regular occurrence here on Maui. Often it is bored teenagers and it has been going on for decades.

    To irresponsibly (and slanderously) assign responsibility to a group of people with whom you disagree is just plain wrong.

    A simple call to the Maui Police department could clear this up. I hope you will do so and retract the untrue statement.

    MPD would tell you that either that incident was not ever reported to them or that they have not arrested anyone for vehicle burning in cane fields in the last year or so (or within my memory – I’ve never heard of anyone being arrested despite numerous vehicle burnings over the years.) PLEASE CHECK YOUR FACTS before posting dubious stories that Monsanto feeds you.

    It does no service to the cause of truth to repeat unverified tales.

  3. I should add that up until recently, any car left by the side of the road for more an a couple of days would be set on fire. (We have a lot of “Maui cruisers” that just get abandoned when they quit running.) I personally don’t get it, but apparently there are a lot of firebugs around here and burning vehicles is their entertainment. Since the administration has been more on it with towing abandoned cars, you no longer see so many burnt out hulks along the roads.

    • Thank you for the additional information. I appreciate that you took the time to explain and share. Thank you. . . truly.

      • Sharon Leton

        Dear illinois farm girl, Since you and your other Neighboring farmers so enjoy Genetically modified seed to grow your crops, why not create them in your neck of the woods… We in Hawaii do not want these chemical companies creating their terminator seeds, spraying their chemicals on the crops to see how much roundup they can tolerate, not to mention the agent orange chemical that is being used to keep the weeds away. It is truly a tragedy that you can not see the reason we do not want the biotech industry in our beautiful state.Monsanto and the other chemical corporates that are the leaders in this supposed race to save the world from starvation are in fact chemical companies that are creating unnatural situations to sell their chemical fertilizers, weed killers and the like in as large an amount as possible. There is something very wrong with the vision of the GMO corporates/ Chemical Companies and it sounds like you may be believing a false vision.. Check out the statistics, go deeper into the truth of what is really going on.. In other words, PLEASE WAKE UP!

        • Thank you for reading and sharing your perspective. I do understand your sentiments about not wanting something you don’t agree with in your backyard. Issues like that affect all of us regardless of where we live. In my home county fights rage on about commercial wind farms and landfills.

          Our climate in northern Illinois is not condusive to the type of research being done in Hawaii. Instead, we able to take what has been learned on the farms in Hawaii and plant larger plots in order to test a hybrid’s standability, strength against heat, cold, drought, flood, etc. Just yesterday we planted a few plots for the seed company we grow for.

          Just because farmers choose to plant a gm-seed created, researched and marketed by a company like Monsanto, does not mean they have to choose to use the recommended pesticides or fertilizers. Very simply, its like hair care products. Pantene recommends for best results you use their shampoo, conditioner, gel, mouse, spray, what-have-you . . . but that doesn’t mean you must. The same is true for farmers. We have the choice to mix and match in order to meet the individual needs of our fields. And as we have witnessed on our farm, by using gm-seeds we have decreased the amount of pesticides we use. No increases here.

          Finally, I do need address the assertion that agent orange is used. It is not. Some people think it is the same as 2,4-D. It is actually a different compond and is no longer available to anyone. Whereas, 2,4-D is at Wal-Mart ready to kill dandilions and other weeds.

          I do appreciate you taking the time to comment. Thank you.

  4. First Officer

    The tractor burning story may be in question, but you can hardly blame Illinois Farm Girl for suspecting it was anti-gmo arson. There has been many violent and destructive attacks against gmo crops and research facilities over the years, like the arson case of Marie Mason and the baseball bat and pepper spray wielding anti-gmo germans in Gross Lüsewitz, near Rostock and the weed whakin’ whackos in Australia.

  5. First Officer

    I forgot to mention the 3 years in a row that GM Papayas have been attacked and destroyed with machetes in Hawaii.

    • Thank your for reading, commenting and providing your insight as well. Every story has multiple sides and it has been interesting to explore the many sides of the gmo debate.

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