$1.75 M to help Kaua‘i cattle ranchers

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.”

9 Comments
  1. Affordable September 24, 2020 5:28 am Reply

    Make it cheaper than Costco and available everywhere then people will buy more local beef. If not they would rather buy a finished marbled steak from Costco. Don’t be like some local ranchers trying to sell steaks $18 plus a pound. Be smart not greedy supply Kauai.


  2. piko September 24, 2020 3:24 pm Reply

    yep…I’m so sure Gay & Robinson needs more $$$. when the article said Local Cattle Ranchers…I thought it was the small local cattle ranchers… The ones that are donating meat, their time, and all their services to the local food banks like to the one I have to go to, or starve.


  3. Null on Small Business Support September 24, 2020 6:38 pm Reply

    Small businesses are hurting the most on Kauai, not to mention the amount of employees out of work due to the lack of tourism. Though I’m not in the tourism industry, I realize that this is a large part of the commodity here. It behooves me that the large sum of money could not be allocated to the main source of income. Lets not draw a conclusion that Derek Kawakmi’s assistant Sara Blane who is the wife of Bob Farias’s son had a role in this. They are big contributors to the cattle industry here. I’d like to applaud the small farms on the island that stepped up to provide fresh produce for the community and Kupuna at a discounted rate.


    1. LMat September 25, 2020 8:53 am Reply

      So you’d rather grant money go to the tourism industry instead of business initiatives on Kauai that can actually lead to a more locally sustainable economy…? Do we want to continue to be dependent on tourism? It’s been said over and over, we’re already at the point of over-tourism. Our island can’t handle any more. What better time to cut (or at least trim) that cord?! Covid has forced us to take a break from all the tourism. NOW is the time to start looking at other ways to sustain our local economy. This is a GREAT initiative put forth by local businesses that hopefully will start to steer us in the right direction! Kauai should be very excited to see where this leads!!


  4. Rev Dr Malama September 24, 2020 7:20 pm Reply

    It’s to humid to grow good alfalfa. It rots and molds in the field instead of drying.
    Maui and big island already tried growing hay but it all turns out pilau. Robinson and Brun know it won’t work but have been subsidized for generations….. so many other grasses and grain and corn could be grown in rotating areas with sheep and goats to graze after the cattle rotate out… .

    It ain’t rocket! But only the select few always get the ag grants on Kauai which is terrible for the many people who want to farm and ranch but are unable to raise the capital.


  5. LMat September 25, 2020 8:36 am Reply

    Wow. Listen to all the farmers in the comments talk about how easy it is to farm and ranch!!! Seems like everyone should be doing their own farming and ranching since it’s so easy.


  6. Joel E Huesby September 25, 2020 10:42 am Reply

    This is Joel Huesby. I was contracted by the Kauai Economic Development Board as a consultant a few years ago to address this very on-going opportunity. Ugh. Not much has changed… And the multiple benefits of keeping cattle on island which will enhance food security and open marketing options to producers, local processors, the tourist industry, as well as the islanders with place-based quality and affordable beef remains positive!
    However, cattle do not need protein (alfalfa) for finishing but just for growing after weaning from momma. Later, they need energy for fat which comes from well managed pastures, or perhaps from annual heat tolerant crops like corn or sorghum.
    The biggest obstacle to food self-sufficiency and increasing local market share is not in agricultural production issues so much as it is in coordinating the interfaces of the various segments from farm to fork. Producers need assurances for timing of grass and cattle production to finish that the meat processor can accommodate. Likewise, pricing and distribution of meats to end users needs to be coordinated like ‘a well oiled machine’ as the saying goes… The challenge lies at the interfaces of each segment. The person or business that can solve the puzzle will win the adoration and business of many who have wanted a better choice for a long time… Production augmentation without addressing the rest of the supply/processing/marketing train cars will go nowhere… Give me a call if you more assistance 509.200.9325 Blessings, Joel


  7. Patti Brooks September 28, 2020 5:34 am Reply

    This is a ridiculous waste of money highlighting how powerful some rich people are on Kauai. Gay and Robinsons own 10000s of acres of land. We are in an unaffordable housing crisis. $+500,000 for a tear down house in Waimea or Kekaha. Instead of bailing out the rich landowners why not have them sell some their land? By the way – cattle is the least efficient use of land in existence. We are surrounded by an ocean full of fish and we’re looking at hamburgers and steaks? How is that an intelligent use of natural resources. Grow more vegetables. Catch more fish. And import cheap beef from the mainland at 1/3d the price of locally raised. It’s simply a matter of going with our strengths as a small island. Cattle is also a reminder of the colonial past that had come to the islands for exploitation….


  8. Patricia Hebson October 24, 2020 9:57 pm Reply

    All the money to grow the beef with the wrong food of protein rich alfalfa is going to waste and into the hands of those that do not need it if they think alfalfa is the right feed to grow. A good use for a bundle of money would be for an abattoir. After the cattle are all fattened up then provide the island with a mobile slaughter house ( abattoir), a method for the resulting slaughter waste disposal, and location for the waste to be processed. The way this current method sits we are going to end up with not enough ways to properly butcher all those many mature heads of cattle. How about some forethought for the future Kauai sudden surge of meat to market the mature butchered cattle. What we gonna do if we still can’t get the meat off the island for one reason or another? Might be best to get a prior written agreement with price and volume commitment from the Kaua’i island retail meat places. Where is dat money to pay somebody to negotiate and close those type contract?


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