Photo courtesy of HDOA
Kaua‘i is known as the Garden Island, but how our garden is changing.
In 1982, according to the Hawai‘i Data Book, there were 410 farms on the island. The average farm size was 624 acres. Since then, the number of farms is way up, and the average size is way down. Farm employment has dropped by more than half.
The early acreage numbers skewed large. As late as 1985, there were still five massive sugar plantations, each of which had crop acreages from a few thousand to more than 20,000 acres.
Nearly half of all farms — 191 of them — were smaller than 10 acres. And the vast majority — 327 of the 410 farms — were smaller than 50 acres.
Things are dramatically different today.
According to the most recent Data Book information — from 2012 — the number of farms had jumped 30 percent to 591. And the average acreage had dropped by 60 percent, to 244 acres.
And more than 500 of the 591 farms were now less than 50 acres.
It’s an indication of a whole lot of subdivision of bigger agricultural parcels into smaller ones. And a lot of that subdivision was into farmlets. The number of farms of less than 10 acres nearly doubled — 191 to 348 — while those between 10 and 50 acres increased only slightly — 136 to 156
Residents of the island will recognize this as the statistical proof of what they’ve seen across our island — the powerful force of agricultural subdivisions of land, largely on the east and northern sides of the island.
Lands that once waved in sugar cane, or spread in fields of pale green pineapple were cut up into small farms — some of which are actually farmed, but many of which are in what some folks call gentlemen’s estates.
A significant sign of the declining role of agriculture in our community is the farm employment numbers. Certainly the decline of sugar, once the dominant agricultural employer, played a big role in the drop. The decrease in farm employment has been steady.
In 1975, Kaua‘i had a total of nearly 2,000 workers in the agricultural arena — 1,550 paid workers, 290 self-employed farm operators and 50 unpaid workers.