Hawai‘i State government has a long history of studying and evaluating land needed for agriculture. Here’s a list of various State-initiated statewide agricultural land use studies:
Land Use Commission (1961)
In 1961, the State Legislature approved the first state land use law in the nation and formed the Land Use Commission (LUC.) All lands in the State were then mapped into three categories – Urban, Agricultural and Conservation. (Rural was added in 1963.)
The LUC is required by law to conduct comprehensive reviews of this mapping; however, the last review was done in 1992, twenty years ago.
Land Study Bureau (1972)
In 1972, the Land Study Bureau report was prepared by UH and it grouped soils into land types based on soil & productive capabilities (“A” (very good) to “E” (not suitable.)) It also produced several ‘Crop Productivity’ ratings for pineapple, sugar, vegetables, forage, grazing, orchard and timber.
Land Capability Classification (1972)
Also in 1972, UH and USDA produced a Land Capability Classification focusing on agricultural suitability limited by soil & climatic conditions. Again, productivity estimates were only for limited crops, sugar, pine, pasture, woodland. Eight Classes were identified, I – VIII (best to worse) with an effective cutoff to I, II & III.
Hawai‘i Constitutional Convention (1978)
In 1978, the Hawai‘i Constitutional Convention (and subsequent vote by the populace) amended the State Constitution adding ‘Agricultural Lands’ in Article 11, Section 3.
In part, the Constitution was amended by adding, “The State shall conserve and protect agricultural lands, promote diversified agriculture, increase agricultural self-sufficiency and assure the availability of agriculturally suitable lands.”
“Lands identified by the State as important agricultural lands needed to fulfill the purposes above shall not be reclassified by the State or rezoned by its political subdivisions without meeting the standards and criteria established by the legislature and approved by a two-thirds vote of the body responsible for the reclassification or rezoning action.”
Agricultural Lands of Importance to the State of Hawaii (ALISH) (1978)
In 1978, in response to the amendment to the Constitution, UH (through CTAHR,) State Ag and USDA conducted the Agricultural Lands of Importance to the State of Hawaii (ALISH) analysis.
A range of factors were considered, including soils, climate, moisture supply, input use, etc and production-related factors were generalized. Ultimately, 3 classes of important agricultural lands were identified: Prime, Unique and Other.
Land Evaluation & Site Assessment (LESA) (1986)
In 1986, a commission was formed and produced the Land Evaluation & Site Assessment (LESA) report. Standards & criteria for identifying important agricultural land were created and a numeric scoring system was incorporated into it.
There were three components, Agricultural production goals (market,) Land Evaluation (soils, topography, climate) and Site Assessment (physical factors, location, land use.)
So, how much land is identified as “very good,” “Class I, II or III,” “Prime” and/or “Important?” Of the approximate 1.9-million acres of lands in the Agriculture district (under the LUC mapping,) the following is a breakdown of the “best” in each study:
• Land Study Bureau (1972) – 447,250-acres; 24% of Ag district
• Land Capability Classification (1972) – 381,610-Acres; 21% of Ag district
• ALISH (1978) – 846,360-acres; 46% of Ag district
• LESA (1986) – 759,540-acres; 41% of Ag district