Support Agriculture With Action, Not Just Words - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Nicole Galase

Nicole Galase is the managing director of the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council.

It took a pandemic to reveal which priorities truly serve the community.

When we shifted behaviors to prevent the spread of COVID-19, people still needed to eat. Essential farmers, ranchers, food processors, and food distributors adeptly adapted operations to continue to serve our community. But why is it that we are only giving them respect in the direst of situations?

Year after year, Hawaii puts all of our eggs into the basket of tourism. Meanwhile, infrastructure and support for agriculture is neglected, and it’s no wonder we import more than 80% of our food.

Every grocery purchase is a vote for where you want your food to come from. If people are willing to pay a premium for local beef, then we must also support the ranchers who raise that beef.

Cattle check out the photographer, a new addition to the coral area. Maukele Ranch, September 13, 2014
Cattle at Maukele Ranch on Molokai in 2014. Hawaii should support its local beef producers to help wean the state off of imports. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

We must understand that every cow raised in Hawaii costs $153 more than its counterpart finished on grain in the U.S. mainland. Without economies of scale, the higher costs of processing meat in Hawaii means producing beef costs 60% more per pound than cattle finished on the mainland and shipped to Hawaii for consumption.

It also takes twice as many months for an animal to reach market weight on grass than on grain. This has been the business model ranchers have contended with since the cost of purchasing and shipping grain to Hawaii began to outweigh the cost of shipping calves to the mainland. However, with the growing demand for local, grass-fed beef, Hawaii ranchers have been positioning themselves to fulfill beef demand by growing local herds for local consumption.

Hostile Terrain

The shift to increase local herds cannot happen overnight, and there are many things that need to be in place first. Caring for additional livestock requires at least a 2 to 3 year planning window, access to quality forage and investment in fencing and water systems — this means ranchers need long-term land tenure. Instead, many are producing agriculture without appropriate agricultural lease terms.

Despite this, they invest resources and personnel to allow access for public hunting, removing invasive species, and installing fences to manage rotational grazing, which improves soil and sequesters carbon. They choose to steward the land well so that they can continue the business of grass farming.

The land that most Hawaii ranchers work is hostile terrain, unsuitable for crops, but still able to produce grass. The beef that you eat is the incredible, natural result of a ruminant taking inedible grass and converting it to a high-quality protein.

Some say that transferring the leases to the Department of Agriculture will result in deforestation and loss of endangered species habitat. In reality, lease holders are still required to follow conservation plans under a DOA lease, and the ecosystem services of invasive species management, wildfire mitigation, and protection of open spaces will continue.

On the other hand, an example of a lease on Maui has sat vacant under the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. It could have been used to raise cattle and regenerate the land, but is now an overgrown pasture covered with black wattle and Christmas berry.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started impacting our economy, the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council coordinated a donation of over 20,000 pounds of beef from local member ranchers to the Salvation Army to feed the community. This large donation is still being distributed to families in need. The Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council gives all the credit to the generosity of Hawaii’s ranchers, quietly doing their part to feed the community.

Additionally, a newly created project through the Hawaii Farm Bureau, in partnership with the County of Hawai‘i and generous nonprofit entities, is purchasing local beef each week to feed the community on Hawaii  island.

If you support agriculture, you should support HB 2035.

Now we have a chance to support agriculture with action, and not just words. A law passed 17 years ago (Act 90, 2003) was intended to ensure the long-term production of lands by transferring them from the DLNR to the DOA. This straightforward law advocates for agriculture and gives ranchers the lease terms they need to succeed, to continue to expand production with confidence in their business models and plans for investing in the land. However, ranchers have been denied this relief with the claim that Act 90 does not have a deadline and pasture is not agriculture.

We thank the Legislature for standing up for agriculture by introducing House Bill 2035 and Senate Bill 2812 to give the Department of Land and Natural Resources a deadline to transfer the leases to the Department of Agriculture and clarifying that pasture is indeed agriculture. If you support agriculture, you should support HB 2035, which simply puts a deadline on an existing law so that it is finally fully enforced after 17 years.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

Read this next:

Why We Should All Love The Police

Not a subscription

Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service. That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.

Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.


About the Author

Nicole Galase

Nicole Galase is the managing director of the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council.

Latest Comments (0)

Maui county had a great program.  All the farmers couldn't take their crop to markets that didn't exist.The county bought the produce and distributed to the needy.  Unsustainable I know, but the farmers would have gone under.  Definitely.I dig steak.  I'm helping w/ global warming by eating the farters.  Its the environmentalists who are harming the animals.  Eating all the vegetables which is food for the cows.  Shameful.

Ranger_MC · 2 years ago

Let's be perfectly clear, state government's primary area of concern is managing the public assets for the wealthy and corporations to exploit in exchange for campaign contributions.  The Cattleman's Association's basic business model is to live off corporate welfare.  Hawai`i needs to feed actual food insecure people, and instead are going to divert assets and funds to lining a few campaign contributor's pockets.  That's morally indefensible most days, but especially so now, when Foodbank is having to buy tremendous amounts of food to meet the growing needs of people here in Hawai`i - not in foreign countries, not on the continent.

Frank_DeGiacomo · 2 years ago

Ranchers are not like farmers, though. The environmental impact of cattle is vastly higher than agricultural crops -- methane gas, overgrazing and the resulting destruction of native habitats to support larger herds, and waste contamination of waterways.Meanwhile, modern ag is capable of growing vertically indoors 24/7 purely off solar power in Hawaii, where land comes at a premium price.As frustrating as it may be for those who have spent their life in the cattle industry, I would lean towards ag subsidies over cattle. I would be impressed if Hawaii were to have warehouses of vertical gardens all over the islands, pushing the local diet towards a healthier option at a lower cost.

SharpQtip · 2 years ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.