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. Continue reading
If one Big Island coffee grower is correct, the solution to the industry’s recent problem with the destructive coffee borer beetle might exist in the coffee plants’ own ecosystem.
The beetle was first detected on Big Island coffee farms this year, particularly in the dry South Kona area. Its spread has proved disastrous in some areas, costing farms as much as 75 percent of their usual yield.
Melanie Bondera of Kanalani Ohana Farm thinks the beetle is likely not new to the island and that the infestation might have been due to severe drought conditions that killed off a fungus — Beauvaria bassiana — that had been keeping the beetle in check for years.
Bondera said she got the idea from another farmer at a meeting last month and conducted a study of infected plants on the organic farm that she operates with her husband.
Examining scores of infested beans, Bondera found evidence of “white crystalline stuff” overflowing from beetle exit holes. When she cut the beans open, she found dead beetles stuck in the exit with the fungus growing out of their bodies.
Bondera, who holds a master’s degree in agriculture, speculates that the beetle has been in Hawaii for years but has been controlled by the presence of the fungus, which lives within the tissue of the coffee plant. She and other farmers think that when the drought hit, the fungus died off, allowing the beetles to do more damage. Continue reading
Sugar for March delivery closed at 28.45 cents per pound on Monday — a little off its above-30-cent peak struck last month, but still double its May 2010 low.
And it looks like sugar may have higher to climb.
Global supplies of sugar are projected to lag worldwide demand this year for the third year running. According to a new report by Czarnikow Group, a London-based sugar and biofuel broker, the supply/demand deficit could run as high as 2.8 million metric tons from September 2010 to September 2011.
Of course, when you consider that total supply for 2010/11 is expected to rise to 168.4 million tons from last year’s 157.4 million, that deficit doesn’t seem like a huge gap. And generally, if sugar becomes too expensive to use, end-consumers can just switch to cheaper sweeteners, like corn-based syrups.
Still, one can make the argument that sugar should be higher, especially considering that growing consumption is expected in emerging markets like China, where we’ve yet to hit the limit of their commodity appetite. Plus, over the past few years, we’ve seen drawdowns in world inventories of the sweet stuff, a fact that helped boost prices up to ever-higher highs in 2007/08 and 2008/09.
The supply shortfall springs from poor growing weather we saw earlier this year. Remember that Brazilian bumper crop we talked about back in August? Yeah, not so much. Brazil, the world’s largest producer of sugar, saw sugar cane production declines from a hotter summer than usual, while similar drought conditions stunted Russian beet production and South African cane yields. Meanwhile, in Indonesia and Australia, the sugar cane harvest withered under a deluge of super-wet weather. Continue reading