Monday, July 14, 2008

Farmers Face Difficulties

Farmers face difficulties:
Farmers co-op would help agricultural leaseholders
By Steve Limtiaco
Pacific Daily News
July 15, 2008

Dededo farmer Ernie Wusstig, who leases 20 acres of agricultural land from the Chamorro Land Trust, said there are many farmers who use their Land Trust property.

"But a lot of them aren't using it either," he said. "They're planting (junk) cars."

Wusstig, who is using his leased property to grow sweet corn -- which he sells along the roadside in Barrigada -- doesn't fault those who aren't using the land.

It's more expensive than ever to farm on Guam, he said, because of increases in the price of water and fertilizer. The water agency increased the price per gallon for agricultural accounts, and fertilizer that used to cost $600 a ton now costs $1,200.

And there also isn't a consistent market for local produce, he said -- one of the reasons he sells produce on his own instead of to local grocery stores. Grocery stores sometimes buy local only until their off-island shipments arrive, he said.

But ongoing efforts to form a farmers cooperative could change all that, he said, and make it easier and profitable for those with agricultural leases from the Land Trust to begin using their land.

Of the 3,666 leases issued by the Land Trust, 955 are one acre or larger, which means they are considered agricultural leases.

The Land Trust requires agricultural leaseholders to use their land -- at least two-thirds must be cultivated at all times -- or risk losing it, but that requirement hasn't been enforced since the Land Trust lease program was implemented nearly 13 years ago.

Land is leased for 99 years to Chamorros -- defined by law as those who are citizens because of the Organic Act, or their descendants.

"With the military coming in, we're going to be using more produce. I believe our farmers can supply that. We've got to plan it out good and make it work," said Wusstig, who is vice president of the new cooperative's board of directors.

The involvement of Land Trust leaseholders is critical to the success of the new farmers cooperative because the Land Trust administers 90 percent of the island's agricultural land, particularly the larger parcels, said Bob Barber, agricultural economist for the University of Guam's Cooperative Extension Service.

Wusstig said the Cooperative Extension Service currently is working on grants for a feasibility study and is entering into an agreement with the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association to begin supplying local produce to its member businesses.

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