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Hawaiʻi Department of Ag leadership gets crucial vote of confidence from Senate

Sharon Hurd is Gov. Josh Green's nomination to head the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture.
Office of Gov. Josh Green
Sharon Hurd is Gov. Josh Green's nomination to head the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture.

Gov. Josh Green's appointees to lead the state Department of Agriculture received a crucial vote of confidence from the Hawaiʻi Senate on Monday.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture and Environment voted unanimously to recommend Sharon Hurd’s nomination as chairperson of the DOA. The committee also supported Morris Atta's nomination as deputy of the department.

Hurd, who has been with the DOA for more than 15 years, said that serving as the department's head would be the “capstone” of her career.

She received wide public support in over 200 written and in-person testimonies. In particular, supporters singled out Hurd's work to seek out and secure funding for agricultural programs.

Sharon Hurd, head of the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture, attends her Senate confirmation hearing on March 13, 2023.
Hawaiʻi Senate
Sharon Hurd, head of the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture, attends her Senate confirmation hearing on March 13, 2023.

"She has that tenacity to go out and get the funding at times when it's not there," said Micah Munekata, testifying on behalf of the Ulupono Initiative.

Funding woes have long been a reality for the DOA.

Committee Chair Mike Gabbard quipped that the Department of Ag would receive "a walloping increase" of .2% of the state's budget in 2023, the first in his seven years as chair.

Many senators called for swift action under Hurd's leadership, particularly with regard to Act 90, a law passed two decades ago to facilitate the transfer of some agricultural lands from the Department of Land and Natural Resources to the DOA.

Hurd committed to working closely with the DLNR to bring those lands under the DOA's jurisdiction.

Hurd stated that her top priority is "moving agriculture towards commercial production," and said that only 10% of Hawaiʻi's farms generate over $50,000 in annual revenue.

"If farms are not making a profit, they are not sustainable," Hurd said.

Hurd cited limited agricultural housing as one of the barriers to expanding agriculture.

"Part of increasing commercial production is providing the land and water and housing," Hurd said.

She advocated for an $18 million Kunia Agricultural Parks project, which would create 24 new agricultural lots, each with a house. Hurd said that having a home on the property would allow farmers to better protect against agricultural theft and invasive species.

"If every one of those 24 lots goes into commercial production, that's a pretty big deal," Hurd testified.

Hurd is the eighth of Gov. Josh Green's appointees to pass through committee. All nominees will need to be confirmed by the full Senate.

Savannah Harriman-Pote is the energy and climate change reporter. She is also the lead producer of HPR's "This Is Our Hawaiʻi" podcast. Contact her at sharrimanpote@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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