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KONA, Hawaii -- Historic, torrential April rains on the island of Kauai wiped out much of Hawaii's taro crops -- the main ingredient in poi and a staple carb of the island diet.

In May, one of the state's most active volcanoes spewed ash and lava throughout the eastern end of the Big Island, decimating more than 50 percent of the state's papaya production and tropical flower industry.

Then came Hurricane Lane.

As Hawaii begins to recover from the tropical hurricane that dumped more than three feet of rain onto the Big Island last month, farmers here are just starting to assess the damage to their crops. Lane landed yet another blow to Hawaii's agriculture industry after an already difficult year of reckoning with Mother Nature. Flooding, excess moisture, and pounding rains could hurt macadamia nut, coffee and flower harvests for farmers on the east side of the island, which bore the brunt of the storm.

"It's been a tough year for agriculture in Hawaii with this and the volcano," said Nicholas Comerford, Dean of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii, Manoa.

Dan Springer, president of the Hawaii Macadamia Nut Association, said nonstop rains could have washed away macadamia nuts that are now just dropping off the trees for harvest. Any significant damage to macadamia orchards could take a toll on the state's iconic industry, which already has fallen behind Australia in production.

"Compared to what Australia is doing, we can't lose any," Springer said. "We're having trouble meeting demand as it is."

Lane also affected small farms on the island of Maui, where the storm's winds fanned and spread wildfires across hundreds of acres in Lahaina.

Diane Ley, head of economic development for Hawaii County, said Hurricane Lane could have hurt the orchid industry while it was working toward recovery.

"A lot of our greenhouses are not fully enclosed but more operations with a mesh to provide more shade," Ley said. "Those will go down in heavy rain."

Troy Keolanui had yet to fully survey the damage to his macadamia nut harvest at OK Farms. The property sits on more than 1,000 acres in Hilo, which experienced a record rainfall of more than 36 inches in four days as the hurricane passed by. He was waiting for the area to dry out this week.

"This is pretty high up there, either the number one or two in the most rain I've ever seen in 40 years," Keolanui said. "The damage has yet to be seen."

While rain saturated his property, Keolanui said he's thankful Hurricane Lane's winds didn't lash the island, which likely would have uprooted trees.

"We were in a position to get whacked," Keolanui said. "We dodged a bullet here, but another storm could be two weeks away."

Not all farms took a beating. Kona coffee, macadamia nut and other farm operations on the west side of the Big Island sit in a drier climate buffered by the mountains.

MacFarms, where Springer of the Macadamia Nut Association is the orchard manager, had actually been suffering from drought in the past few months, and the extra rain was welcome.

Macadamia nuts are harvested after they've fallen from the trees, and the water weight from the rain helped pull the crops to the ground for an easier harvest, Springer said. Last Sunday, workers squatting under trees rapidly plucked what looked like little green marbles off the ground and placed them into buckets.

"We got two-and-a-half inches of rain and we got just what we needed," said Springer, who oversees one of the world's biggest macadamia orchards, an operation that produces nearly 10 million pounds of macadamia a year. "It knocked a lot of nuts off and helped us out."

For those who weren't as lucky as MacFarms, the road to recovery could be long.

Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama said the rain and flash floods in April on Kauai wrought the worst devastation her family's 55-acre taro farm has seen in six generations. Floodwaters washed away newly planted fields, and the deluge felled trees and submerged tractors. It could take two to three years to recover, she said.

"No matter what happens, we need to keep moving forward," said Haraguchi-Nakayama, whose family operates Hanalei Taro. "People in Hawaii are resilient by coming together as a community during times of crisis. Farmers are vulnerable to so many things beyond our control. Farmers need to be resilient in order to continue farming."

SundayMonday Business on 09/02/2018

Print Headline: Weather takes toll on crops in Hawaii

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