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Agricultural Crime on Maui Costs Big Bucks

Theft of produce, supplies and equipment hurts the little guy most.

May 9, 2013
Susan Halas - Contributing Writer ( , The Maui Weekly

If your idea of agricultural crime on Maui is picking up a fallen avocado, think again.

As recently as March 2013, HC&S was hit with a $900,000 loss when two heavy tractors were burned in an act of suspected arson. The fire occurred in fields off Haleakala Highway. There are presently no known suspects.

Annually, the company faces thefts of supplies and equipment of between $150,000 and $200,000, according to Ralph Miyamoto, manager of safety and risk for HC&S. He said missing items include small tools, batteries, supplies, vehicles and items destroyed by vandals.

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Rancher Brendan Balthazar, a Maui rancher expressed concerned about hunters, fence cutters and others trespassing on cattle land.

Miyamoto was one of about 30 people present at an agricultural security meeting on Thursday, May 2, in Kihei. Those present represented the private and public faces of local agriculture. Among them were ranchers, farmers and flower growers who focused on better security, faster networking and more frequent reporting to authorities. They were told that cases can move up in priority if farmers provide photographs and other identification to assist in enforcement and prosecution.

Brian Ingersheim of Hali'imaile Pineapple Company said the company where he works has experienced pineapple theft "by the truckload."

Brendan Balthazar, one of several ranchers present, reported stolen animals, armed trespassers, hunting, poaching, fence cutting and just plain persons unknown sunbathing or out for a stroll on his property.

The event was organized and hosted by Monsanto Hawai'i at their Mokulele Highway facility. Ed Nishi, Hawai'i security supervisor from Monsanto's Kunia office, was the lead speaker. He also participates in a similar effort on O'ahu.

Nishi introduced a bold new red and black security enforcement sign that announced suspicious activity shall be reported to the police.

The group plans to meet again to spread the word and make an improved communication network for local agricultural loss prevention.

Also present were various branches of law enforcement, representatives of the Maui prosecutor's office, the state Department of Agriculture commodities division, a private security specialist, a staffer for County Councilmember Don Guzman and the Farm Bureau.

John "JD" Kim, the Maui County prosecuting attorney, explained how reports were handled and explained his department's willingness to prosecute if sufficient evidence is presented. Representatives of the Maui Police Department (MPD) explained a variety of related matters.

MPD members itemized the need for fencing, posting a sign and circulated information on the process to make a citizen's arrest along with a short description of the necessary paperwork.

Both the police and prosecutor's office cautioned that the use of force has many interpretations and might not be the best way to handle intruders. They recommended increased use of cameras and surveillance technology. They urged making reports of loss, trespass, damage, and the use of weapons and vandalism, even though they acknowledged that without a suspect, those reports might not go anywhere.

There was also a short discussion on what happens to stolen produce that is then resold at farmers' market-type venues and new legislation relating to documentation, bills of sale and similar requirements.

A representative of the state Department of Agriculture passed out the basic terms of the new law, but privately, some of those present were skeptical that anyone was going to stop selling because they hadn't done the paperwork.

The agricultural security meeting was the third held so far in an attempt to increase awareness of agricultural theft and how it hurts Maui agriculture. It was pointed out several times that proportionately this kind of crime hurts the small farmer the most because the loss of their crops is a direct loss of income, too.



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