Hawaii Beef Comes Home
More of It Is Now Back in Hawaii
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Hawaii’s cattle industry suffers from constraints. There are only six slaughterhouses in the state and limited pastures, especially for grass-fed cattle. This has led ranchers to ship about 40,000 live cattle each year to be fattened up and processed on the mainland. Only 10 percent of cows born in Hawaii are slaughtered in the Islands.
“We have about 40,000 heads born every year, but our slaughter facilities have limited capacity and we’re not able to grow programs like grass-fed much larger than what it is,” says Spence, who oversees a co-op that has 33 active members statewide. “There’s no other option for us.”
Illustration by Andrew J. Catanzariti
But the cost of shipping cattle to mainland feed lots and raising them there has been inching upward, due to the rising price of grain and oil. Wood says it now costs nearly $200 a head for weaned calves to be shipped away.
A multiyear drought has helped shrink herds by about 30 percent statewide in the past eight years.
“There is nothing Hawaii ranchers would like more than to leave their cattle here,” Wood says. “But until economically competitive and viable finishing and processing segments of the industry are developed in Hawaii with adequate capacity, the cow-calf producers must send the majority of their calves to the mainland to stay in business. As transportation costs continue to increase, it might make more sense to leave more cattle in Hawaii.”
The goal of marketing Hawaii-sourced beef – whether as steaks or ground beef – is to support the local ranching industry while giving consumers a high-quality product, Spence says.
“Consumers want a grass-fed program in which the revenues get returned to Hawaii ranchers,” she says. “We look at that as sustaining for them.”
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