Drought conditions hurting farmers and increasing chance of wildfires

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Minimal rainfall and higher than normal temperatures are to blame for drought conditions being felt in many areas of the state.

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Experts said it’s not out of the ordinary to experience drier conditions in August and September. But this year, it’s much more severe in some places and rainfall may not pick up until winter.

Plants need sunshine to flourish, but they also need water.

National Weather Service Science and Operations Officer Robert Ballard said the lack of rain and high temperatures recently are causing drought conditions in many parts of the state.

“It’s been very dry and we haven’t even seen a lot of rainfall on what is normally the wetter Windward areas. It’s been pretty dry there as well. As of this week, we’re seeing severe to extreme drought in many Leeward areas, especially from Oahu to the Big Island,” Ballard explained.

Maui and Molokai are some of the places hit the hardest.

University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture Resources extension agent Glenn Teves lives on Molokai.

“It’s not abnormal. We have this every year, but some years are worse than others,” Teves said.

“I think this year, the problem is that when we have less tradewind days, it gets even worse because (water) is evaporating really fast. The temperature escalates to the mid-90s and most crops cannot handle these conditions.”

Less water hurts most crops, but Teves said two are especially sensitive to the lack of water.

“Whole leafy vegetables and taro. Taro cannot handle this. In these kind of conditions, the (taro) get really stressed. It might affect the quality of the dry land and wetland taro. But the leafy vegetables, lettuces–the mustards and those kinds of crops–they really suffer under these conditions. It tastes really bitter. But across the board, most of the crops in Hawaii don’t like these kind of conditions.”

Maui County Farm Bureau Executive Director Warren Watanabe said during a drought, the county limits water consumption which will ultimately impact the amount of locally grown produce.

“The farmers on Maui have a 90-day grace period before they have to reduce their water usage from the county water system. However, if the drought persists, they will have to reduce their plantings. And this will affect the volume of product from our local farmers. That affects the supplies in the near future,” Watanabe explained.

Watanabe said ranchers are also being impacted.

“They are the ones that really get hit particularly hard with droughts. Most of the pastures are un-irrigated. So they depend a lot on rainfall. And with this dry situation, the pastures are not in a good condition. There are problems feeding the cattle properly,” Watanabe said.

Many ranchers are forced to ship their cattle to the mainland, which results in a reduction of their herd and equals less locally sourced meat in our grocery stores.

But the most dangerous side effect of drought? Wildfires.

“The biggest problem is the wildfire threat. We have really bad conditions with wildfires as we get into the late summertime period where we’ve been dry for quite a while now,” Ballard said.

Both Maui and Oahu have already seen a number of brush fires.

Ballard said dry conditions will likely continue into the early part of fall.

“Maybe as we get closer to the holiday season we could start to see rainfall becoming more plentiful. Again, it’s a long-range outlook so it’s not set in stone, but the trend that we’re seeing would be a switch to more wet conditions closer to the holidays or perhaps early next year.”

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