Hawaii’s beef market is backward. Nearly all the beef eaten here — 95 percent — arrives packaged on container ships from the U.S. mainland. At the same time, Hawaii cattle ranchers ship 40,000 live cattle each year to California, Kansas and other states, while just 4,000 are slaughtered for meat sales in Hawaii.
The economics made sense for decades. Huge slaughterhouses elsewhere could process beef more efficiently than smaller ones in Hawaii, and it’s cheaper to send cattle to the mainland to be fattened than to bring in corn or other grains to feed calves after they’re weaned.
Now, national interest in locally grown food and grass-fed beef has caught on in Hawaii — offering ranchers plenty of reason to escape this paradox. But the opportunity comes as crushing drought has made it difficult to keep enough cattle here to capitalize on the demand.
Rancher and veterinarian Dr. Tim Richards has been trying for six years to raise more cattle on his family’s century-old ranch. He holds back some calves he previously would have sent to Oregon, Texas or elsewhere for final feeding, or “finishing.” But eight years of below-normal rainfall have left little grass for the cattle to eat.
“You put them out, and then it doesn’t rain and then instead of growing, they just sort of stand around,”
Parker Ranch and local investment firm Ulupono Initiative will jointly fund research into large-scale grass-fed beef production on Hawaii island.
The trials will involve 200 head of cattle on 300 acres from September through May of 2013.
“This local product strategy should ensure that we have the capacity to produce high quality and consistent market cattle in Hawaii at a competitive price,” said Dutch Kuyper, CEO of Parker Ranch, in a statement.
“It is an honor for us to partner with Parker Ranch … to support the pre-commercialization trials of large-scale grass-fed beef,” said Kyle Datta, Ulupono general partner.
Rainfall levels in Upcountry areas are below normal this year, and there’s a bleak outlook for rain for ranchers and farmers as the islands head into the normally dry summer months, a hydrologist said Thursday.
“We’re headed out of our wet season. The outlook is not too good,” said Kevin Kodama, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service on Oahu.
From January through March, Kula received 5.5 inches of rain. Normally, it gets around 8.7 inches, Kodama said. Pukalani received 4 inches in the same time period while it normally gets around 16 inches. Ulupalakua received a little under 5 inches, and it usually gets about 10.
“We’re in really bad shape,” said Sumner Erdman, president of Ulupalakua Ranch. “The economic impacts have already hit.”
Erdman said this will be the fourth year his ranch has been impacted by dry conditions.
The economic losses amount in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.
The ranch has had to sell cattle. It now also sees cattle with lower weights because less rain means cows have less grass to feed on. The ranch also has lower reproduction rates because there are fewer cows to breed, Erdman said.
Over four years, the number of breeding cows has gone from 2,300 to 1,500, as the ranch sells them off to deal with the drought conditions, Erdman said.
The ranch currently has 3,800 head of cattle, with preparations under way to sell more, he said.
Warren Watanabe, executive director of the Maui County Farm Bureau, said the dry weather trend seems to follow the long-term prediction of scientists.
Because areas of extreme drought in Hawaii have increased in the past few months, with the hardest hit being the pasture areas on the Big Island, Maui and portions of Molokai, the farm bureau’s priority during this legislative session has been to fund drought mitigation projects.
You might have missed this while you were busy taking the kids to school and preparing for the holidays, but last fall, two U.S. food labeling programs suffered serious legal setbacks that threaten to confuse consumers and thwart the intentions of the “dolphin-safe” tuna and “country-of-origin” labels.
The details are complicated, but in September and November, two dispute panels for the World Trade Organization in Switzerland sided in part with Mexico and Canada on complaints against the voluntary dolphin-safe label and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL). Mexico argued that U.S. dolphin-safe standards are misleading and discriminate against the controversial fishing techniques that Mexico employs to catch tuna. Canada argued that the COOL program discriminates against imported cattle and hogs.
Reactions to the WTO rulings have ranged from tranquil to concerned to downright outraged. Major U.S. tuna producers say they won’t change their dolphin-safe sourcing standards even if they have to change their labels. Pork and beef producers worry that Mexico and Canada might apply tariffs to U.S. meat imports if the U.S. government doesn’t comply with the WTO rulings on COOL, a regulation the meat industry has had mixed feelings about since its implementation in early 2009.
And some nonprofit groups are frustrated that the United States finds itself in this position at all. They’ve long predicted that America’s binding membership in the WTO could lead to this: sacrificing important U.S. environmental and public-safety laws in the name of free international trade.
“There has been widespread concern,” wrote the nonpartisan advocacy group Public Citizen after the dolphin-safe ruling in September, that the WTO could “second guess the U.S. Congress, courts or public by elevating the goal of maximizing trade flows over consumer and environmental protection.”
AUSTRALIAN cattle farmers fear a plan by Indonesia to drastically cut the amount of beef it imports next year will be a massive blow to the domestic industry.
Indonesia will only allow for 280,000 cows to be imported, down from 520,000 permits this year. Live exports to Indonesia are believed to be worth $300 million to Australian farmers.
Advertisement: Story continues below
Indonesia will also limit the boxed beef it buys from overseas to 34,000 tonnes. Last year, Australia exported 48,500 tonnes of boxed beef to Indonesia.
Indonesia has indicated it wants to be self-sufficient in beef by 2014.
The Cattle Council of Australia president, Andrew Ogilvie, said Indonesia’s decision had dealt the industry a huge blow.
”Industry is pretty disappointed that there has been a reduction but we recognise Indonesia’s determination for self-sufficiency,” he said.
Mr Ogilvie said he did not believe the decision was in retaliation to Australia’s suspension of trade in June.
The live cattle trade was suspended by the Australian government for a month this year after the ABC’s Four Corners program sparked animal welfare concerns. The trade was later reinstated.
The Australian Live Exporters Council chief executive, Lach McKinnon, told the ABC any drop in exports would be massive blow to the cattle industry in the northern states.
”It’ll put us under a lot of pressure and we’ll have to work very hard to get through this,” he said.
”It’s like any of these particular trade issues – it’s about government to government and working through what it is both parties want to get.”
This month the Labor Party’s national conference rejected a push to phase out live cattle exports altogether.
WAILUKU – The Maui Planning Commission unanimously approved permits Tuesday for Auwahi Wind Energy to build and operate eight 428-foot-tall wind turbines on Ulupalakua Ranch land.
Two dozen people testified on the proposed special use and special management area permits, and none were opposed to the project, according to planner Ann Cua. Some testifiers shared concerns about traffic, safety and visual impacts of the wind farm.
The project would have the capacity to generate 21 megawatts, which would be enough power to supply electricity to 10,000 homes. The $140 million project’s infrastructure includes an energy storage system; a 9-mile, 34.5-kilovolt power line; an interconnection substation; a microwave communication tower; and a construction access road. Each generator pad would require about 2.4 acres of cleared area, while the entire project would cover 1,466 acres, almost entirely on Ulupalakua Ranch land.
The project aims to provide power for Maui island only. It is not part of the “Big Wind” project, which calls for wind farms on Lanai and Molokai to provide power to Oahu via an underwater cable.
Commission members attached conditions to Auwahi’s permits, including one that requires Auwahi Wind, a division of Sempra, to work with the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and Ka Ohana O Kahikinui Inc. to develop a community benefits package. The groups would develop a plan and sign a memorandum of agreement addressing the roadway improvement and other needs of the Kahikinui homestead community.
The project area contains more than 1,100 archaeological features on 174 sites, and the developer has designed the turbines and power lines to avoid culturally sensitive burials and heiau.
THE head of an independent review into live exports has backed the government’s decision not to make stunning mandatory in the slaughter of Australia animals overseas, saying the practice is not universal and can still be inhumane.
Former departmental secretary Bill Farmer released the report of his investigation into the industry today as Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig confirmed a series of reforms to the $1 billion a year trade, reported by The Australian today.
The new arrangements will see extra transparency measures in place for live cattle exports to Indonesia – introduced in the wake of graphic ABC Four Corners footage – extended to all markets, including Asia and the Middle East, and will also cover the live-sheep and goat export industries.
The changes, which represent an unprecedented shake-up of the industry, will be staggered over the next 14 months to avoid mass disruptions.
Mr Farmer said the review examined animal killing practices overseas – with and without stunning – that met animal welfare guidelines.
“We also saw practices, both stunning and non-stunning, that fell far short of the OIE guidelines. Stunning applied incorrectly is not a humane practice,” he said.
“There is not universal acceptance of stunning, including under our own guidelines in Australia.”
Mr Farmer said he did see a “very significant move in Indonesia” to introduce stunning and by August, 30 abattoirs there had introduced the practice.
Senator Ludwig said the government had accepted all 14 recommendations made by Mr Farmer.
Faye Blackstone, a rodeo trick rider who was elected to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and was best known for her saddle-dangling signature move, the reverse fender drag, and who helped launch the career of country singer Reba McEntire, died Aug. 30 at a hospital in Bradenton, Fla.
She was 96 and had complications from cancer, said her great-niece Deanna Blackstone.
Mrs. Blackstone was 3 when she began riding horses on her family’s Nebraska ranch. She taught herself how to do tricks while riding her horse to school.
She and her late husband, Vic, a bow-legged bronc rider from Texas, married in 1937 on horseback in the center of a rodeo arena in Bladen, Neb. They performed on the rodeo circuit during the 1940s and ’50s. During that time, she also rode in a traveling show with Gene Autry and entertained crowds in New York’s Madison Square Garden and as far as Havana with her gymnastic feats.
Mrs. Blackstone could do headstands while her quarter horse galloped at full stride. She could drop down from the saddle, let her boots kick the arena dust and spin to the horse’s other side.
Diana Vela, the associate executive director of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, said that Mrs. Blackstone is credited with inventing three maneuvers:
The economic downturn means organic farmers are less likely to reap rewards of premium prices for their produce
Farmers across the UK have been deserting organic farming, or holding back on plans to convert their land to more environmentally friendly farming methods, as sales of organic products have fallen in the economic downturn.
Last year, only 51,000 hectares was in “conversion” – the process that farmers need to go through to have their land and practices certified as organic. That is less than half the amount of land that was in conversion in 2009, which itself was down markedly from the recent peak of 158,000Ha in 2007, according to statistics released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Thursday morning.
Far fewer farmers are interested in turning their land to organic production, despite the promise of premium prices for their produce, after a marked fall in sales of organic goods in the past two years as a result of the recession.