Big Island

Big Island Agricultural Properties – Do You Want To Farm or Ranch or Just Grow Your Own Food?

As I mentioned in this post about buying a North Kohala Farm or Ranch Large Acreage, my favorite day at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol this year was when my Senatorʻs son addressed the Senate with a plea for support of agriculture. (You really should take a look at the video embedded in that post if you did not watch it already!).

Not everyone has the ambition, know how, or financial capacity to buy or create a working farm or ranch on large acreage. Many more of the people I hear from want to “grow their own food” to be more self-sufficient, or produce food on a small scale, on a small agricultural acreage, selling at the farmerʻs market or on the internet or making simple products. This includes people asking about coffee farms, or macadamia nut farms, or properties with orchards, as well as people who envision milking goats or cows, gathering eggs from laying hens or ducks, or maybe a greenhouse full of vegetables.

locally grown papayas and citrus

Locally grown food currently on my kitchen counter includes avocados and papayas, various varieties of citrus, and both taro root and poi made from it

My earlier post focused on large agricultural acreages. Letʻs look at what you can grow and raise on a smaller acreage.

How to Know Whether An Agricultural Property in Hawaiʻi is Suitable for a Particular Crop?

I wrote in another post about what you can do generically, according to state law and county zoning code, on an agricultural property. A different question is the technical one: what is this agricultural property suitable for producing? Or the other way around: I want to grow/raise <fill in the blank> – can I do it on this particular listing?

The continental U.S. growing zone information in your seed catalog will be of little help, especially since you heard on the airport rental car shuttle that Hawaiʻi Island has 10 or 11 of the worldʻs 13 climate zones.

The factors you will want to consider when deciding what will grow on a property you are considering include:

  • annual rainfall
  • sunshine (different from rainfall which can be a seasonal distribution or a more consistent monthly average)
  • elevation
  • soil depth and quality (some of our lower lava zones or more recent leeward flows have little top soil)
  • for grazing purposes, the type of grass/forage and consequent carrying capacity.

If you are growing food for other than personal consumption and sharing with friends, you will also want to prepare a business plan with a market analysis, and cost and revenue estimates. Growing stuff in Hawaiʻi is easy compared to selling it profitably. Except for the poi, all the items in the photograph above were freebies from friends and family. In season, you will find people bringing bags of avocados or tangerines, or hands of bananas, to meetings. You might find mounds of fruit offered for free in a basket on the hardware store or library checkout counter.

two sheep in a pasture in hawi big island

These sheep are in residence at my Hoea Road, Hawi listing MLS 669788; the owner consulted with NRCS on carrying capacity of the land.

Sources of more information for your research include:

How Much Does a Small Agricultural Property Cost on the Big Island?

chickens in a chicken coop

Based on U.S. per capita consumption, Hawaiʻi needs 375 million eggs annually to feed residents and visitors. We only produce 18.4% of the eggs we consume. Opportunity?

Prospective buyers are often surprised to find that a 3-acre parcel can be as expensive as a 10-acre or 20-acre parcel. Thatʻs because the price isnʻt based on the agricultural production capacity of the land. Most buyers want to build a home on the parcel, or buy a small acreage with a home already on it. A single parcel of any size can only have a single dwelling, unless the agricultural use is sufficient to require farm workers in need of housing. Most buyers therefore put little value on the agricultural acreage, and more value on the usual factors such as view, location and availability of utilities.

For example, here in North Kohala last year a 4-acre parcel sold for $770,000 with ocean views, County water and electricity, an existing house pad surrounded by mature tropical fruit trees; early this year a 4.68-acre parcel sold for $500,000 with older macadamia nut trees, but no access to county water or electricity.

There is only one North Kohala vacant land acreage listing with fewer than 20 acres outside of a gated community. This 13.3-acre parcel comes with a water meter installed, power nearby, and ocean views for your homesite. Listed for $1,150,000.

There are also three smaller agricultural acreages with homes already on them listed at $1,200,000, $1,300,000 and  $1,350,000.

If you are interested in a different area of the island, prices of vacant land can be more or less, depending on how the market perceives the overall desirability of the area for residential use!  Again, the bottom line is that residential use, not agricultural use, drives pricing of land in Hawaiʻi, making it more difficult to farm or ranch profitably.

And that having been said, there is an opportunity, on a local, island-wide and statewide level, to help with the goal of agricultural self-sufficiency for Hawaiʻi. Locally grown products also help feed local families and kupuna (seniors). If you are buying a property zoned for agriculture, please consider becoming part of the solution.

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