Bill would provide grants to study, grow disease-tolerant tropical flora

  • The University of Hawaii develops a variety of anthuriums at Green Point Nurseries in Hilo.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Thong Teng Neo, manager at Green Point Nurseries in Hilo, lifts up an unreleased anthurium Wednesday that was developed by the University of Hawaii.

  • Photos by HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Eric Tanouye, president of Green Point Nurseries, points out an unreleased anthurium Wednesday that was developed by the University of Hawaii at the nursery in Hilo.

U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Colleen Hanabusa introduced a bill which could give floriculture research in Hawaii a boost.

The State Assistance for Tropical Floriculture Research Act of 2018 would allow states to seek grants of at least $250,000 per year to research and develop disease-resistant varieties of tropical flowers.

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Grants would be awarded to state departments of agriculture on a competitive basis. States would be required to conduct and submit an audit each year regarding the use of their funds.

The bill requests a $10 million appropriation to establish the grant program for fiscal years 2018-20.

“This is really exciting for our industry, and we just hope we can get this bill passed,” said Eric Tanouye, president of the Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association and president of Green Point Nurseries in Hilo, on Wednesday. “The focus on tropical flowers and plants … makes this bill really attractive to Hawaii. It means states that don’t do this type of research probably won’t apply.”

Tanouye said the grants could help fund current breeding programs in the state and bolster efforts to hybridize plants that are “more tolerant to new diseases that are specifically coming into Hawaii.”

For example, researchers identified on anthuriums a new fungus that thrives in hot, humid weather, he said, adding there also is a new strain of the thrips insect affecting anthuriums.

“And there are going to be more,” Tanouye said of the plant pests. “As globalization takes place and more people come to Hawaii, you get more pests coming in, too. So, definitely, this type of funding is a really big help as long as we can get the bill passed.”

Tanouye said more research also could allow the state to hybridize plants that require fewer pesticides because they are more resistant to pests.

Hawaii’s floriculture and nursery products, which include cut flowers, orchids, lei flowers and potted flower plants, are valued at an estimated $74.5 million, according to a statement from Gabbard’s office.

Gabbard said in the statement that floriculture remains “one of our most profitable agriculture sectors in Hawaii,” and the global floriculture market is becoming “increasingly competitive.”

The University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources also regularly collaborates with the Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association and the state Department of Agriculture on research and programs, Hanabusa said in a statement, noting “it is important to support that type of collaboration in Hawaii and around the country.”

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The bill was introduced Feb. 16 and referred to the Committee on Agriculture.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.