Hawai‘i Farming Meets Tech

Jan 20, 2017

Credit Wikimedia Commons

Farming in Hawaii has gone from industrial scale to small farms. And the technology supporting the farmers has shrunk too. Today, it often fits right in a phone. Pacific Business News Editor in Chief A. Kam Napier has more.

Diversified agriculture is slowly filling out former sugar and pineapple lands and it’s being helped along by local innovations in farming technology. But don’t imagine tractors or machinery. We’re talking about software applications, working hand-in-hand with sensors for data-driven farming. Consider the local company Smart Yields, which emerged from the Blue Startup accelerator program in 2015. This company deploys ground sensors, viewed through an app, that give farmers important information about soil conditions.

Greenwell Farms, a coffee grower on the Big Island, has already been using Smart Yield to gather data on the habits of the coffee borer beetle, a pest that has been damaging coffee crops. The data has allowed Greenwell to fight off the beetles more quickly and with fewer applications of pesticide.

Another farming technology we looked at in this week’s cover story is a soil-free indoor lettuce farm in Kakaako, called MetroGrow Hawaii, which irrigates the roots directly with a nutrient-rich mist. That system is controlled right from farmer Kerry Kakazu’s smartphone.

One advantage the old industrial crops had was economies of scale, buying in bulk the supplies and equipment to farm thousands of acres. Small farms can’t achieve that. The hope of both farmers and ag-tech startups is that data can help them find the efficiencies to grow success.