Most people think of Hawaii as a state of beaches, hotels and coconut palms, but much of the islands is also devoted to agriculture, including some very productive ranch country. Hawaiian cowboys are called “paniolos,” and anyone on a ranch from the mainland would feel right at home at one of their brandings or gatherings.
The state of Hawaii is separated from the mainland by many thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean, and so with all the seaports and airports located in the lowland areas of the islands, there is real potential for disruption of food shipments in the event of natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes. As a result, food security is definitely on the radar.
For the last two years I have been helping with the transition of crops and business for the last large plantation in the entire state of Hawaii. Alexander and Baldwin has been in the sugar production business on Maui for nearly a century and a half, but the last crop of sugarcane was harvested in 2016 when losses forced the closing of the operation, and several hundred skilled workers had to be laid off.
A significant part of the plantation is now being converted to a permanent pasture ranching operation called Kūlōlio Ranch. The company is in the process of beginning to grass-finish cattle from ranches such as Ulupalakua and Haleakala.
Checking out the forage supply at Haleakala Ranch
For several years, these ranches have been grass-finishing their own animals with Maui Cattle Company. However, this has proved problematic because of droughts that have required de-stocking. There is no local sale barn where you can always sell your livestock, and there is a limited capacity at local abattoirs. Shipping adult cattle to the mainland is cost-prohibitive. So, during a drought, the only option is to sell and ship young stocker calves as a way of reducing stocking rate and keeping your ranch alive. Needless to say, this totally disrupts the supply chain for finishing cattle and makes the whole business model questionable.
The beauty of the arrangement with the new partnership with Kūlōlio ranch is that they have an extensive irrigation infrastructure and the potential to ensure plenty of grass, even during dry periods. This will help ensure that finishing cattle will continue to grow to mature harvest weight for processing by Maui Cattle Company. This arrangement also allows the participating local ranches to return to a more focused cow-calf operation, without the difficulties of finishing animals on grass.
The phased transition of pasture establishment began last year and will be in full production in 2012 with 3,500 cattle being finished for local markets. A new abattoir is also being planned and ample markets exist to expand production and ensure a customer base for the entire production capacity.
I’m excited about being able to have input into operations like this and am grateful for the opportunity to keep learning and working with ranches like these across this wonderful country.
Kirk Gadzia has been teaching Holistic Management and consulting with ranches for almost 30 years, and it has been an interesting career. From helping with goal setting and financial planning to designing grazing plans and ranch infrastructure, no job is ever the same. Add in the most interesting, hospitable, and resourceful people from all across the country and getting to visit some of the most beautiful properties on earth, and he’d have to say it makes a pretty wonderful job description.