Frequently Asked Questions About Grazing Land Conservation in Hawaii
Q: I thought the grazing industry is in the livestock business: Why conservation?
A: About one quarter of Hawaii’s lands are in some form of grazing and pasture use, making them a factor in environmental resource protection in Hawaii. Stewards of many of these grasslands are graziers wanting to take responsibility. We participate in Hawaii’s conservation work because it is right. It is true that our livelihood must come from livestock production. Fortunately, when we manage grazing lands through conservation practices, our production goes up. A healthier environment leads to a better product.
Q: I understand the value of managed grazing lands, but do we need a grazing industry?
A: Graziers are in the business of food production, and have been providing food to islanders since the mid-1800s. Hawaii currently imports at least 80 percent of its food. Providing proteins that can be traced to their source, we are part of a statewide effort to boost local food production. The grazing industry also represents part of Hawaii’s unique cultural paniolo heritage. It is important to preserve that legacy.
Q: I can’t afford to buy locally raised meat for my family: What do you say?
A: Livestock in Hawaii are grazed by dedicated people, who cannot take advantage of the economy of scale enjoyed by large commercial operations elsewhere; they cannot compete with these operations’ resulting low prices. But when you buy locally raised meat or even small items such as goat cheese for your family, you buy more than a meal: You support the continuation of healthy grassland ecosystem services for your children; you enhance the health of your family, the community, our economy, a lifestyle. When you buy locally raised food, you value the land and the people living here.
Q: What are some of the grazing industry’s greatest challenges?
A: Graziers are passionate about their work, but obstacles abound. Just a few examples:
- While managed healthy grasslands contribute to efficient groundwater recharge, such water supplies are essentially limited, and competition for water usage is huge. Recent droughts have worsened the situation.
- Revenues in the livestock industry swing dramatically; The steady rise of costs in feed, fuel, water, insurance, labor, equipment, fence materials, and repairs makes no difference to these fluctuations.
- Invasive species, which include both plants and animals, damage island ecosystems and reduce grassland productivity, affecting the economics of the ranch, the community, and the islands as a whole.
- Lacking adequate local processing facilities, but separated by water from their markets, Hawaii graziers struggle with transportation costs and the length of transit times.
Q: I am a vegetarian: Why should I support Hawaii’s grazing industry?
A: Cared for by dedicated graziers, cattle, sheep, and goats raised in Hawai‘i forage freely; their meat can be traced to the source. Eating pasture-raised meat still requires slaughter, of course, yet it is otherwise ethically, nutritionally, and environmentally a sound, safe choice. Even if you prefer not to eat meat, you can support grazing in Hawaii knowing that in doing so you contribute to an important component of natural resource conservation and the lifestyle of the islands.
Q: How can I help?
A: There are numerous ways you can support natural resource conservation on Hawaii grazing lands. Buy locally-raised, locally-grown produce and meats. Stay current about issues affecting agriculture in the islands. Frequent farmer’s markets and get to know the people who grow your food. Spend a day outside and appreciate Hawaii’s grasslands. Encourage children to value agriculture. Consider joining your local Farm Bureau, the Hawaii Sheep and Goat Association, Hawaii Cattlemen Island associations, or your local conservation district. Or become an Earth Team Volunteer with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Q: Where can I learn more?
A: Contact the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council Inc., Hawaii Sheep and Goat Association, your local conservation district, or the Pacific Islands Area NRCS for more information. Information on nationwide GLCI activities can be found by clicking here.
Q: What are some current facts about grazing lands in Hawaii?
A: Land total: 4.11 million acres; 1.11 acres are in some form of farm or grazing use.
Number of farms: Over 7,500 registered farms and ranches.
Farm Revenues, 2008: Total: $609.4 million, a 5.4 percent rise from 2007.
Cattle/Calves Revenues, 2008: $24.3 million, a 7 percent decline.
Milk Revenues, 2009: $7.5 million, a 38 percent increase from 2008.
Number of cattle/calves: 151,000 head. (NASS, February 2010.)
Beef cows: 83,000 head. (NASS, February 2010.)
Dairy production, 2009: 21.3 million pounds of milk, the first time in 11 years the state has seen a year-over-year production increase, valued at 15 percent. The state counts 18,000 dairy cows on 15 farms and two commercial dairies licensed to sell milk. Hawaii has at least four certified goat dairies.