Local Farmer survives urban encroachment while reducing erosion and keeping healthy soil
HONOLULU, Jan. 31, 2014—Did you know that your neighbor was a farmer? Otsuji Farm has been practicing conservation and producing high quality crops since 1959 in Hawaii Kai. Mr. Otsuji became a South Oahu Soil and Water Conservation District Cooperator in 1971, after taking over the farm from his father. Over the years he has received assistance from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on a variety of programs and services. The conservation efforts that Mr. Otsuji implemented have allowed his operation to remain viable and be sustainable.
Over the years, Mr. Otsuji has continually refined and improved his operation into a model farm, and serves as an example for many in his community. The conservation practices he completed includes terracing, crop rotation, cover crops, irrigation (pipeline, system, and water management), mulching, nutrient management, windbreaks, and vegetative barriers. In 2010, he completed a conservation practice called windbreaks/Shelterbelt through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), administered by NRCS. Currently in progress is the irrigation pipeline and sprinkler system, also through EQIP. The conservation partners with Otsuji Farm includes the South Oahu Soil and Water Conservation District, FSA, and NRCS.
High land values and urban encroachment have accelerated the loss of Oahu farmland. Otsuji Farm feels this pressure more than most. "I was here before the homes," said farmer Edwin Otsuji in an interview. Today his farm is abutted by homes and a high school, and potential and perceived off-site impacts of the farm are a huge concern. It is essential that Mr. Otsuji be proactive to prevent the off-farm movement of windblown particles, suspended sediment, and nutrients in runoff.
Slopes on the Otsuji Farm are up to 15%. In the 70's, Edwin worked with NRCS, then known as the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) to address erosion, runoff and irrigation for his farm. Ten years later, when runoff from his farm impacted the newly constructed high school, he worked with SCS to install bench terraces. In recent years, when the aging terraces began to fail, Mr. Otsuji worked again with NRCS to reinforce the terraces with vetiver grass barrier.
Another resource challenge is the Otsuji Farm's aging irrigation system and use of high quality, costly domestic water for irrigation. Replacing aging infrastructure, use of new irrigation technology and irrigation water management is needed to more effectively and efficiently apply water for crop production. The Otsuji Farm, like most farms, is not static. It is a dynamic, growing system, and the Otsuji's have been perfecting their infrastructure and techniques.
The Otsuji’s have been stewards of the land for many years, making the farm better than when he received it. He uses vetiver grass to reduce soil erosion and direct water runoff. This farm has innovations in growing such as companion plantings, cultivar selections, and natural insect/disease controls/techniques. He also does aquaponics and hydroponics. In addition, they have an effective use of vertical growing space utilizing trellises. They have an excellent marketing technique including community supported agriculture (CSA), farmers markets, Co-op’s, and farm to table tours. The Otsuji Farm was the first operation on Oahu to do the CSA (veggie boxes) program.
“Dedicated farmers like the Otsuji’s are the reason our agency exists,” said Christine Clarke, Acting Director for the NRCS Pacific Islands Area. “Great land stewards are helping to protect our natural resources and keep local agriculture sustainable.”
“The USDA is proud to partner with producers by providing a wide range of services and products to ensure the sustainability of our natural resources and the economic viability of individual agricultural businesses,” said Diane Ley, Executive Director for the FSA in Hawaii.
The conservation practices and projects that the Otsuji’s implemented have been progressive and successful. Their long-time commitment for conservation and quality products is very apparent when visiting their farm or enjoying their crops. We look forward to assisting the Otsuji Farm and others through USDA programs and providing technical assistance. For more information, contact Rick Patterson, NRCS District Conservationist in Aiea at (808) 483-8600. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.