Waialua had an especially sunny winter last year with more than 40 acres of full-bloomed sunflowers brightening the usually barren frontier lands of this North Shore area. These flowers make up more than just a typical garden -- they are part of a full-scale commercial production in which farmers worldwide use these "sunnies" to make cooking oil.
For more than 80 years Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. has led the world in developing and supplying advanced plant genetics to farmers in about 70 countries. Hawai‘i’s warm weather played a major role in the company, based in Iowa, deciding to open a facility in the Pacific. Today the O‘ahu location specializes in plant breeding and seed multiplication for corn, soybeans and sunflowers.
“It’s all about the weather,” said Cindy Goldstein, Pioneer’s business and community outreach manager. “We can plant corn and grow corn year round, so Hawai‘i has been a very good place for us to do this kind of work.”
Pioneer grows hundreds of different corn varieties, which are then used to make hybrid seeds. Their soybeans are sold to make popular food products such as tofu. Goldstein has done research with GMOs on the mainland prior to working at Pioneer. She says there’s no need to worry.
“When we look at the safety of people eating these crops and animals, we find them to be safe through hundreds of studies that have been published,” she said.
The seed industry provides 22.7 percent of all agricultural jobs in the state. Pioneer has also expanded production to Kaua'i and saw a boost in the number of employees a few years ago. They now have more than 300 full-time employees and about 150 seasonal hires during peak production periods.
The sunflower crops will return later this year bringing more sunshine and more jobs to the islands while the question of safety in consumption of GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) food products continues to be raised.
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Alyssa S. Navares, PacificNetwork.tv