Pigs & papayas: Farmers join together to overcome problems posed by pandemic

  • FREEIMAGES.COM

Two of the Big Island’s major agricultural industries are working together to keep each other alive during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Because of Gov. David Ige’s emergency declaration in March that closed nonessential businesses throughout the state, Hawaii Island’s pork and papaya industries have found themselves in dire straits.

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“The swine industry gets about 70% of its food from food waste from restaurants and hotels,” said Mike DuPonte, a livestock agent with the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

DuPonte said that, after food waste became scarce, pig farmers attempted to buy grain feed from the mainland, which quickly ran out.

“And on the other side, papaya growers can’t sell their products to hotels or restaurants or schools, so they have thousands of pounds of product they can’t sell left to rot,” DuPonte said.

But a partnership between the CTAHR and the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association hopes to keep the two industries from collapsing.

Eric Weinert, president of the HPIA, said he applied for a $10,000 grant from the state Department of Agriculture that would be used to pay papaya growers for their fruit, which could be used to feed the pigs. Although the DOA only approved a partial grant of $4,000, the project has gone forward.

Currently, pig farmers can order an 800-pound bin of papayas for $10 by Thursday each week, which can be picked up the following Monday at Calavo Growers in Keaau. The transactions are made without face-to-face contact between individuals.

“I thought it would be a zoo, but the whole operation is pretty slick,” DuPonte said. “Everyone usually has their feed by noon every week.”

The average pig farm on the Big Island has about 15 sows, DuPonte said, with each sow able to produce 20 piglets a year. A farm of that size likely would go through one 800-pound bin each week, he said.

Weinert said a handful of farmers have availed themselves of the papaya bins in previous weeks, when the price per bin was set at $75. Now that the price is much lower, he expects demand to rise.

While this solution will sustain both industries in the short term, it is not ideal in the long term. DuPonte said that, while pigs will willingly eat papayas, such a diet is lacking in protein and will slow the animals’ growth.

He added that farmers are mixing grain into the papaya feed to supplement the pigs’ nutrition.

More pressingly, resources are finite: “This is sustainable only until the $4,000 runs out,” Weinert said.

DuPonte said some pig farmers are still able to source food waste from restaurants or grocery stores for the time being, but added that he hopes to utilize a feed mill at the Panaewa Agricultural Park in Hilo to provide more long-term assistance to farmers in need.

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Farmers can order papaya feed by calling (808) 982-8880.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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