ABOVE AND RIGHT: Cows are seen on Parker Ranch land. Ranch officials are planning a research trial to study the merits of grass-fed beef production on the Big Island. (Photos by Ethan Tweedie Photography/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Cows are seen on Parker Ranch land. Ranch officials are planning a research trial to study the merits of grass-fed beef production on the Big Island.
Parker Ranch is looking to take something old and make it new again, this time by studying what it would take to finish more cattle on the Big Island.
“In the old days, they used to finish (cattle) here,” Parker Ranch corporate secretary Nahua Guilloz said.
Right now, most of the ranch’s roughly 10,000 head of cattle in production each year are sent to the mainland or Canada for finishing, she added.
Ranch officials are partnering with the Honolulu-based Ulupono Initiative to fund research trials of large-scale, grass-fed beef production. The trials will track 200 head of cattle on 300 acres from September through May, officials said.
“We’re really excited about doing this and seeing if it can be profitable,” Guilloz said. “What is it really going to take to do this again?”
Ranch CEO Dutch Kuyper said the program could allow for more locally grown, grass-fed beef at competitive prices for island consumers. If cattle can be finished here at a competitive price, it will also help the ranch, he said.
“This is important on many fronts, especially to develop a strategic hedge within our business against the risk of rising energy prices in the future,” he said. “Also, a significant increase in local production should help us build our brand even further.”
Cheap oil prices in past decades contributed to the shift from locally finished cattle to sending the animals to the mainland, Guilloz said. It’s also cheaper to transport a 400-pound animal than bring in feed to replace grass that doesn’t grow in drought conditions, she added.
If the trials are successful, ranch officials said the local grass-fed beef program could grow to 2,500 to 4,000 head per year. A full program would use existing pasture, as well as reallocate a “measurable” portion of its grazing capacity for grass finishing, a release from the company said.
The move to take up the test project doesn’t have anything to do with the current ranch’s business model, nor is it a reflection of any changes in the ranch’s development program, Guilloz said.
“It has more to do with food sustainability,” she said.
The Ulupono Initiative, created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam, focuses on issues of sustainability and promoting locally produced food, renewable energy and less waste.
“Ulupono believes ranching is a fundamental cornerstone of Hawaii’s agricultural sector,” Ulupono general partner Kyle Datta said. “Allocating pasture from cow-calf operations to increased grass-finished beef production should place Hawaii’s ranching industry on a more secure economic footing, ushering in a prosperous future that would attract reinvestment in our state’s ranches for local beef production.”
He added the ranch’s leadership “is essential to help inspire other Hawaii ranchers to consider grass-fed as an option. As more ranchers adopt grass-fed methods, we believe the tangible benefit will be an increase in the availability of high-quality local beef that everyone can afford. ”