KEKAHA — Kaua‘i has a cattle problem.
Many cattle ranchers ship off their herds to O‘ahu or other destinations to be finished and processed, but with market disruptions made prevalent due to the coronavirus pandemic, they’re unable to and are now forced to rethink what to do with their livestock.
This is one of the reasons why about $1.75 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Grant funding from the county has gone toward alleviating this problem in the way of two grants through the Kaua‘i Economic Development Board.
A $750,000 grant was awarded to Hartung Brothers, Inc., to establish livestock feed production infrastructure as well as equipment for cattle finishing. Additionally, a $1 million grant was awarded to Gay and Robinson for pasture improvements for cattle finishing that will hopefully allow for on-island finishing.
The cattle industry on Kaua‘i, and in the state, mostly moved to the Mainland in the 1990s. Since 1986, Hawai‘i’s market share of the local beef market had decreased to less than 10%, according to a 2003 study from the University of Hawai‘i, citing high costs of shipping live animals, real estate and low profits.
Hartung will optimize the alfalfa field for feeding livestock with initial crops held for baling. The next phase in this CARES-funded project will be to pelletize the alfalfa as high nutrition feed.
Hartung Brothers currently farms about 50 acres of alfalfa commercially, producing small, bales. Ranchers have often requested cubes, pellets or other feed products, and alfalfa has a rich nutrient conversion efficiency.
The purchasing and installing new equipment to expand the volume of local feed production will enhance the local supply chain for the livestock industry, including both cattle and goats.
From July to August, the team ordered equipment, did design work and prepared utility connections. By December, they hope to have over 200 acres of alfalfa and be offering new forms of feed throughout the island.
“It’s a big production,” Tai-Li Medeiros, who manages the alfalfa sales. At times, she said, there are over 12 tons in a storage unit.
G&R will modernize fallow lands for the management of herd and regular finishing to bring a Kaua‘i-grown product. G&R acquired the former Mahaulepu Dairy Center Pivot irrigation system, which is capable of irrigating about 450 acres, but has not been installed due to a lack of funding for fencing, according to the project’s contract.
The project specifically targets the Kaua‘i Economic Recovery Strategy Agriculture Committee’s recommendation which addresses shipping restrictions for livestock.
This upgrade would allow Makaweli Ranch, and other island ranchers, to finish their cattle on-island. It was estimated the project would fund over 20 jobs, during and post-construction.
“We look forward to keeping our cattle home, reducing costs, providing additional employment, and providing local beef for local families,” the contract states.
The project description said the fields will improve the “handling of cattle using manageable paddock pastures will allow the animals to live under ideal conditions and have less stress.
Nalani Brun, director of the county’s Office of Economic Development, spoke about the projects at a Kaua‘i County Council meeting in August. She said they work together as part of the solution to alleviate higher shipping costs during the pandemic.
“When Young Brothers began to falter, it became a huge problem for cattlemen,” Brun said.
Brun explained that these projects can possibly lead to fortifying the livestock processing market on Kaua‘i, and has been floated before.
“We may have a new product,” she said. “We’re just trying to set it up for the future and also solve the problem.”