UH Hilo Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Lab produces mapping for statewide agricultural survey

The Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture releases Statewide Agricultural Land Use Baseline 2015 to provide current information and maps on the locations of Hawaiʻi’s farms and ranches.

By Susan Enright.

A map of the state from the new study with color coded areas of agricultural activities.
A map from the new study, Statewide Agricultural Land Use Baseline 2015, which provides current information and maps on the locations of Hawaiʻi’s farms and ranches.

The Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture, working with University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Lab, has released a study on agricultural land use which provides information on the location of commercial agriculture activities statewide.

The Statewide Agricultural Land Use Baseline 2015 study updates a 1980 survey and provides current information and maps on the locations of Hawaiʻi’s farms and ranches. The baseline study is intended to help industry, government and the community in making decisions that affect agriculture land use in the state.

The 100-page report was prepared by the UH Hilo Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Lab. The project used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology and aerial imagery from several sources to digitally document the footprint of lands engaged in commercial scale agriculture statewide.

The report provides a wide range of maps and graphics depicting the location of 15 crop categories with island-by-island summaries and regional descriptions of some of the factors that drive ongoing agricultural activity around the state. It is a snap shot in time from which to measure change in agricultural land use patterns both historically and for measuring change in the future.

Ryan Perroy
Ryan Perroy

Ryan Perroy, UH Hilo assistant professor of geography, is primary investigator on the project.

“This has been a very interesting project and long overdue as the last statewide assessment took place 35 years ago,” says Perroy. “Obviously a lot has changed in the meantime and we, meaning the UH Hilo Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Lab and Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, were very happy to work with the Department of Agriculture to produce this dataset and accompanying report.”

Also working on the project are Jeffrey Melrose, a land use planning and resource management expert, as project manager, Sylvana Cares as cartographer and geospatial analyst, and former UH Hilo student interns Leilani Yamasaki and Ian Seely.

In addition to incorporating spatial data and satellite imagery, the project also included many field visits and days of interviews and community outreach events with representatives from the local farming and ranching communities and different agencies across the Hawaiian islands.

“We also created a web portal for soliciting feedback on our draft crop boundary layers, to try and make sure everyone had a chance to comment on the new layer,” explains Perroy. “Agriculture in Hawaiʻi continues to evolve, given the recent announcement by HC&S on Maui to cease operations, and having the maps and other geovisualizations we’ve put together, along with the GIS dataset itself, will be useful to see where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are headed in terms of commercial agriculture in the state.”

He adds, “If we are serious about increasing our level of local food production here in Hawaiʻi, there are opportunities to do that and some bright spots across the state, but the overall signal we are seeing on the landscape is one of major contraction of agricultural lands.”

The report also will serve as a planning tool for agency, industry and community interests to think collaboratively about future directions in agriculture based on what is currently taking place on a region-by-region basis around the state.

Changes in Hawaiʻi’s agricultural landscape

As explained in the media release about the report, Hawaiʻi has been through a dramatic change in agricultural land use over the last 35 years with the passing of the plantation era in both sugar and pineapple production.

In 1980 there were 350, 830 acres in crop production, 85 percent of which was tied to sugar and pineapple. In 2015, total crop acres have dropped to just 151,830 acres with just 28 percent of that being sugar and pineapple. Each region that experienced the shutdown of plantations has responded differently. Some have seen the emergence of new crops, others have not. Understanding the pattern of this recovery process will help to better predict the trajectory of future crop production statewide.

In 2015, sugar remained the largest crop on the state with 38,800 acres and those acres will be fallowed in 2017 following the planned closing of HC&S plantation on Maui. The seed companies were the second largest land users with 23,720 acres on four islands. Commercial forestry, primarily on Hawaiʻi Island was close behind with 22,860 acres. Macadamia nuts, again primarily on Hawaiʻi Island, was the fourth largest crop at 21,545 acres. All of the top four crops are grown primarily for export purposes.

Diversified crops are grown on 16,900 acres statewide. This category includes a wide variety of leaf, root and melon crops, most of which is consumed locally. More than half of all diversified crops in the state are grown on Oʻahu and most of that in the central plain between Ewa and Haleiwa. In 1980, just 7,490 acres of diversified crops were grown statewide, indicating a substantial increase in local food production and a shift in the center of that production to Oʻahu where the market is the largest and transportation costs are the lowest.

The 2015 study also mapped more than 760,000 acres in active pasture use. This number is down from 1.1 million acres in 1980. This decrease is due in large part to the removal of remote lands from pasture use by land owners like Kamehameha Schools and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands on Hawaiʻi Island and by the acquisition of pasture properties by the National Park System and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army. Pasture use accounts for 83 percent of all productive agricultural land use in the state and 73 percent of that use is on Hawaiʻi Island.


About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.