Kauai cattle company purchases state-owned slaughterhouse

LIHUE — A Kauai cattle company has bought an Oahu slaughterhouse in the hopes of expanding the market for locally produced beef in the state.

Kunoa Cattle Company initiated a purchase with Hawaii Livestock Cooperative on the leasehold interest of a state-owned facility on Kapolei, Oahu, that has the potential to process about 10,000 animals per year, said Jim Beuttell, a partner with Kunoa Cattle Company.

The deal closed in mid-November. Beuttell declined to comment on the amount of the deal. Kunoa will hold the term of the lease and all of the improvements and the ability to operate the business.

“Our goal is that by investing in this facility and upgrading it and improving the standards for animal welfare and food safety, we can attract more business from our fellow ranchers across the state and perform services for them so they can increase their production as well,” Beuttell said.

Sharleen Andrade Balmores, Andrade Slaughterhouse and Cattle Company manager, said the deal is important because it keeps locally raised cattle within the state.

“To give the bigger ranchers who have thousands of acres, it gives them the option to process the cattle here,” she said. “They don’t have to ship the cattle out to the Mainland.”

Over the last 20 years, the state of Hawaii lost the vast majority of its livestock industry, said Scott Enright, Hawaii Department of Agriculture chair,

“We lost our dairies, we lost our swine operations, our poultry operations. We started sending cattle to the Mainland. We stopped slaughtering them here, to a great extent,” he said. “Now that there is a strong demand for grass-fed beef, we’re seeing more of the animals left behind.”

The market for protein that was raised locally is growing rapidly, Beuttell said.

“If you look at nationally, organic and grass-fed beef categories, they’re growing in the double digits,” he said. “We think that consumers are experiencing an enlightenment about their food and food sources.”

According to a USDA report, about 700,000 pounds of red meat was produced in the state in August. The number equaled last year’s figures. Through the first six months, however, this year’s figure of 5.8 million pounds of red meat production is down from production of 6 million pounds through the first half of last year.

Red meat production includes cattle, hogs, sheep and lambs, according to the report.

The bulk of the red meat is cattle, which amounts to 7.1 million pounds before slaughter in 2016 and 7.6 million pounds last year, according to USDA reports.

Data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture had Kauai producing about 10 percent of the state’s cattle sales, which amounts to about $4 million that year out of the $38 million of cattle sales in the state.

“We’re growing the market share of grass-fed beef, and we need to improve our infrastructure as far as harvest facilities like the ones that Kunoa meats picked up, so we can do processing work here in the state and sell the beef that there’s a demand for,” Enright said.

Kunoa, which has about 1,500 cows, said their business model will be sustainable because in addition to working with local ranchers, the company has its throughput to sustain the facility.

“We raise our own cattle. Therefore, from a manufacturing perspective, we have the throughput that is needed to make that facility drive,” he said. “What it means for consumers is, another option for locally produced proteins. Our view is that there isn’t enough of it. Consumers want more options and want it at a more competitive price point.”

Balmores, whose slaughterhouse in Kalaheo processes about 80 animals a month, said the purchase is in line with a sustainable future for the state.

“Not only is it our culture, but it’s producing food for the island. What’s better than getting fish from the sea and fruits from the tree and meat from the land?” she said. “Why would we sell meat to the Mainland and process it there and have it shipped back here to buy it here? It doesn’t make sense.”

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Alden Alayvilla, reporter, can be reached at 245-0435 or aalayvilla@thegardenisland.com.

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