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 technology and aerial imagery from several sources to digitally document the footprint of lands engaged in commercial scale agriculture statewide. Ryan Perroy, UH Hilo assistant professor of geography, is primary investigator on the project.

Report maps agricultural activity around the state

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.

“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.

A tool for increasing agricultural production statewide

“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.

“This baseline study is one of several projects we are working on to lay a foundation for measuring our progress toward increasing agricultural production statewide,” says Scott Enright, chairperson of the Hawaiʻi Board of Agriculture. “We look forward to using this tool in making informed decisions about current agricultural enterprises and in the planning and promoting of new agricultural investment to increase our food security.”

For more on this project, go to the UH Hilo Stories website to read the full story.

—By Susan Enright