The business of cattle production in Hawaii

A cow/calf operator from Hawaii says it’s more cost effective to export calves to the mainland to be finished and processed.

Orion Stevens, herd manager for the Ponoholo Ranch says the operation uses multiple avenues to get cattle from Hawaii to the mainland. “Using 40-foot ‘cowtainers’ that’s been split into 4 compartments and usually holds about 40,000 pounds per container,” he says. “So roughly at 5 weights, about 60 to 75 head. We also use a plane from Pacific Airlift and that could be up to 100,000 lbs.”

He tells Brownfield there are some advantages – for example. “Our cattle graze grass year-round,” he says. “We’re a little bit in a higher country. So we do have a slow growth season in the winter, but cool season grasses comes up as well. So that that helps out a lot.”

But, Stevens says the biggest challenges is land availability. “Everybody wants to buy land on the island,” he says.  “We slowly keep losing more land to non-ranchers.  In the middle of the Pacific we’re pretty much 100% dependent on weather and things change really quickly out there.”

Prior to 1992, cattle in Hawaii were fed locally in one of several feed yards on the island.  But rising operating costs and better economic returns on the mainland led producers to begin shipping calves stateside and in 2018 more than 43,500 calves were exported.

Brownfield interviewed Stevens during the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Young Cattlemen’s Conference.

AUDIO: Orion Stevens, Hawaii

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