- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii’s supply of locally grown tomatoes has gotten considerably smaller after one of the state’s biggest producers decided to exit the business.

Hamakua Springs Country Farms on Hawaii Island ceased tomato production at the end of November, leaving stores around the state such as Costco, Foodland, Safeway and Whole Foods without the company’s hydroponically grown varieties, which included cocktail, beef and heirloom tomatoes.

Richard Ha, Hamakua Springs president, said his greenhouse and hydroponic system equipment needed replacing but was going to cost three times what he originally invested to establish the tomato operation in 2002.

“We just couldn’t make the numbers work,”?he said. “The plants themselves are not producing any more.”

Ha had 140 greenhouses that collectively covered about 15 acres. About 30 employees were displaced by the shutdown.

Hamakua Springs in past years reportedly produced 2 million pounds of tomatoes annually and was a major local producer regularly supplying retailers on Hawaii island and Oahu plus occasional deliveries to Maui and Kauai.

However, the impact on the market from the farm’s pullout is difficult to measure because the National Agricultural Statistics Service stopped reporting statewide tomato production figures in 2008 to protect farmers from having competitive information published.

In 2007, local farms produced 14.3 million pounds of tomatoes compared with 4.3 million pounds of imported tomatoes, a 77 percent share of the market.

Tomatoes have been among Hawaii’s 10 biggest crops by value, sometimes topping the value of bananas and papayas. In 2007, the value of Hawaii tomatoes, which is what farmers receive, was $9.9 million.

Ha’s exit from the market creates a void that he said he hopes can be filled by another local producer. “There’s an opening in the market for somebody who can make a go of it,”?he said.

While Ha no longer grows tomatoes, he is still growing bananas under the Hamakua Springs label on about 150 acres. Ha got his start in farming about 40 years ago when he began growing bananas on part of his father’s chicken farm, which led to the formation of Kea’au Bananas. That firm later became Mauna Kea Banana Co., and then Hamakua Springs.

Hamakua Springs covers 600 acres and includes plots that Ha leases to other farmers. Ha also has a hydroelectric generation plant that began supplying the farm with electricity earlier this year.

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Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, https://www.staradvertiser.com

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