Agriculture on the island of Kauai
April 14, 2006
The Hawaiian Island of Kauai is a positive agricultural force in the states economy as well as tourism with beautiful beaches and coastline.
by E.S. Ruby
A survey of the agriculture on the island of Kauai, one of the 5 major islands that constitutes the state of Hawaii and the problems that come to mind first are the same as many other areas of the tropics.
Rice production and sugar production have declined. There is only one sugar factory on the island of Kauai, but I observed several closed factories.
The only dairy on the island recently closed because of Environmental Protection Agency regulations. The facilities are standing empty and the pastures are deserted and becoming infested with “sour grass.”
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There is a problem with pasture management and no attempt at harvesting forage for dry periods.
Fifteen years ago there was no guinea grass on Kauai but is well adapted to the area and has infested the entire island. It is a very tall growing grass and needs careful management. It has a negative energy value when allowed to grow above 3 feet. It will grow up to eight feet tall. Properly managed, beef cattle will do well on the grass.
Presently, the cattle industry on Kauai consists of small operations of 30-50 cows. Most of the cattlemen are part-time operations and they have a full-time job in some other occupation. The extension agent on Kauai told me that he had a 30 cow operation and that he worked at his ranch on the weekends and holidays.
The cattlemen suffer under an additional restriction. Mainland U.S. has a law that ships of foreign registration are prohibited from landing cattle at U.S. ports. Thus, they ship their cattle to Canada and Mexico where they are then shipped to feedlots in the mainland. Their market is 30 cents under the same weight and sex animals on the mainland. Then they buy boxed beef to ship back to the islands. The animals weigh approximately 400# and are shipped in containers and have feed and water available. It would seem unfair to our 50th state that they should be penalized by the mainland because it must use ships to market their cattle when U.S. registered ships are unable to provide this shipping service.
Taro fields provide added revenue for farmers and the crop is mainly used to make poi – a native dish.
Feedlots in Hawaii have no high energy (corn) to feed and so must ship it in from the mainland. Feedlots are going out of business due to the tourist business emphasis on uniform cuts of beef which they can get as boxed beef from the mainland. There is a good deal of water available for agricultural irrigation. The west side of the island receives 20″ of rainfall while the highest mountain in the center of the island gets 460″ of rainfall. A large plantation on the west coast of Kauai was putting in an irrigation system for sugar cane; on the north coast there was gravity irrigation for the taro.
Taro is an aquatic (water loving) tuber. It has the potential to produce 15 tons of dry matter per acre.
This is a very starchy, conical tuber and is used to make poi … traditional native Polynesian dish. It does take some fortitude to consume it initially. It is also used to produce flour for pancakes, baking or even alcohol. The area of land available for taro production is too limited for use as an animal feed. Also there are no sources of protein for animal feed. It has the same value as cassava does in other countries in the tropical area. In the Dominican Republic cassava is used to produce flour, tapioca, french fries (chips), pancake flour and bakery flour. Belize, adjacent to Mexico, raises a lot of cassava (called Yucca there and in Mexico) and is known as a poor man’s crop. It grows best on poor soil that is sandy. The roots are able to grow better and makes harvesting much easier.
One of the farmers on Kauai told me that they had raised other crops, but were too hard to harvest.
Thus, they had destroyed their plants. The Taro requires more water than cassava and so is raised in small fields that can be flooded. Similar fields are used for producing rice.
The ability to provide quantity and quality in agricultural produce seems to revolve around the size of the operation. The remaining sugar cane operation is viable because of the ownership of large enough acreage to provide year around operation of the factory. The same is true in the coffee plantations. They had 3,400 acres in production. Thus they were able to put a processing plant in operation. The number of operations involved in producing coffee from the coffee bean was a revelation to me. There did not seem to be any attempt at the development of co-operative operations. No production co-ops and no processing co-ops.
There are at least two U.S.seed corn companies on the west side that are raising seed corn for the mainland. I was told by one of the companies that they paid $3.00/acre to lease the land that they were planting to corn.