Hawaii Senate Committee Inexperienced Lights New Ag Director Sharon Hurd
Several major land leases are set to be moved from DLNR to DOA in a matter of months, resolving a lingering issue.
Sharon Hurd received kudos for being “most improved” from the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee on Monday as the committee approved her appointment to run Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture despite a bumpy initial appearance.
As Gov. Josh Green’s pick, Hurd has proven popular among ranchers and farmers. Hurd had faced pushback from lawmakers and her first hearing at the Capitol was cut short by Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who deferred the Jan. 11 meeting because he said she was unprepared.
But following questions about her plans to deliver what her predecessors could not and Hurd’s impassioned and tearful pitch for the committee’s approval, the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Environment voted unanimously Monday in favor of the 15-year DOA employee’s directorship, along with deputy Morris Atta.
Hurd committed to advocate for farmers and ranchers and the entire food system, and underlined her key areas of concern: land, water, housing and infrastructure.
She must still be approved by the full 25-member Senate.
“(Farmers and ranchers) work when no one is watching,” Hurd told lawmakers through tears.
“They work early, late, in rain, wind and heat. These are normal conditions for them and they take on the risks of farming to produce food,” she said.
Taking the helm of the DOA, Hurd said, would be the “capstone of my career.”
Those farmers, ranchers and their representatives were overwhelmingly united in their support for Hurd, whose appointment received 248 written testimonies testifying to her industrious and responsive ethic.
Only one piece of testimony was submitted in opposition.
Committee deputy chair Sen. Tim Richards said the support Hurd garnered from the agricultural community was a positive indication of her potential.
“Your first swing of the bat coming into the legislature to promote yourself, didn’t go real well,” Richards, a Big Island rancher, said. “I have to say that in the last several months I’ve seen an outstanding improvement.”
But the agriculture committee was clear in its expectations: Create a master plan for agriculture, advocate for food producers, get more funding and ensure that Hawaii is becoming more food secure.
At the top of the committee’s priorities was Act 90, a law enacted 20 years ago that called for the transfer of appropriate agricultural lands from the Department of Land and Natural Resources to DOA, after complaints that DLNR’s management was ineffectual.
Hurd doubled down on her pledge to finally resolve the issue, stating that three major land leases, held by KK, Kapapala and Diamond B Ranches, would be transferred to DOA in a matter of months and the full transfer would be completed in about one year.
“We have every intention of bringing the full list over,” Hurd said, adding that she has been working closely with DLNR since her appointment.
A key to the transfer, according to Hurd, is DLNR’s land database which has information on every lease that could fall under the land transfer arrangement.
Sen. Lynn DeCoite, a third-generation homesteader and committee member, underscored the importance of using that information to expedite the transfer, rather than letting bureaucratic processes get in the way.
“I have full faith in you guys to do this, if you could just work harder and work faster,” DeCoite said.
The committee reminded Hurd that she was inheriting a sparsely funded department — receiving less than 1% of the state budget — and that it needed to be advocated for across all of its arms of operation.
“What we are looking for is leader who is going to champion agriculture, look for the resources, get the resources and become a leader for our state in developing agriculture to where it should be,” Richards said.
Formerly head of DOA’s Market Development Branch, with 27 years in sales and marketing, Hurd said she would continue to leverage state and federal funding for the state’s agricultural priorities; something she had done since 2007.
One such priority was ensuring the longevity of Hawaii’s slowly degrading irrigation infrastructure, along with finally getting funding for fallowed agricultural park projects and program support.
In an interview last month, Hurd said she planned to be bold and make big asks of lawmakers, which Richards said he would hold her to.
“Be bold. Ask us for support,” Richards said. “We are asking you to ask for the support so we can really make agriculture shine.”
“Hawaii Grown” is funded in part by grants from the Stupski Foundation, Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.
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