Hawaii’s agricultural biotech industry is thriving. The state’s seed industry has grown at steady clip and is now valued at a record high of $146.3 million according to the Hawaii Ag Statistics Service. That’s an increase of 42% since 2006.
Hawaii’s ag biotech industry is represented by the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, a non-profit trade association founded in 1971 by Dr. James Brewbaker as an offshoot of the Corn Research Program at the University of Hawaii College of Agriculture.
HCIA member companies have farms and facilities on the islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and Molokai and employ more than 1,800 workers. Although Hawaii is the leading producer of seed corn, the papaya crop is perhaps the best-known example of how ag biotech has truly flourished there.
Hawaii’s papaya industry was in the verge of extinction due to the papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) when USDA plant virologist Dr. Dennis Gonsalves and a team of biologists and horticulturalists began efforts to develop transgenic papaya that was resistant to PRSV. One PRSV-resistant line was discovered and farmers began planting the transgenic cultivar in 1999, effectively sparing the industry from disaster.
Since then, growers in Hawaii have been focusing on the role that their state can play in the global economy. “Food, agriculture and growth must be the fundamental and sustained objectives of our state,” said Hawaii Crop Improvement Association President Adolph Helm. “It’s very easy to say ‘no’ to genetically modified food when your stomach is full. It’s time for us to ‘grow locally and feed globally.’”
Helm also responded to ISAAA’s annual report on the global status of commercialized biotech crops, saying, “The report confirms that the research work being conducted by the seed industry in Hawaii is having a profound impact on agriculture worldwide. The increased demand for biotech crops is proof that the technology has become a vital tool for farmers in developing countries who struggle with poverty, malnutrition and resource-poor farmlands. ”
Also, check out the introduction to HCIA’s new video, “Seeds of Promise,” which shares how biotechnology is shaping Hawaii’s future, and features academics, researchers and state policymakers discussing the benefits of agricultural biotechnology.