Former Hawaiian sugar cane producer switching to cattle
On May 16, A&B announced the establishment of Kūlōlio Ranch, a grass-fed cattle pasturing operation that grew from the company’s earlier pasture trials on the former sugar lands.
Kūlōlio Ranch will collaborate with Maui Cattle Co. and its member ranches to expand production of grass-fed beef on approximately 4,000 acres of pasture. The ranch name, Kūlōlio, refers to the name of a wind at Hāmākua, Maui.
Kūlōlio Ranch has recently doubled the size of its grazing herd from 150 to 300 animals, and is in the process of installing more than 18 miles of perimeter fencing to manage the cattle, together with irrigation systems to supply some of the pastures and facilitate reliable forage throughout the year, A&B said.
Kūlōlio Ranch hopes to have 900 animals grazing on the property by the end of 2017, and 3,500 animals by 2021.
“These expanded pasture spaces will allow ranches on Maui to have their cattle finished on-island, so they don’t have to be shipped to the mainland,” Benjamin said.
Sustainable ranching practices are being used to cultivate the pastures and manage the cattle. The animals are moved on a daily basis within paddocks, permitting them to graze freely while allowing grasses and other forages to accumulate and grow during rest periods.
A&B aims to transition 8,000 to 10,000 acres into diversified agriculture this year, and to aggressively convert more acreage over the next few years, Benjamin said.
Among the other farm operations that A&B is exploring is a dairy operation with cows that would graze across the plantation and have a mobile milking facility that would move with them; a laying hen operation; and energy crops. Benjamin also hopes to establish an agricultural park in which small farmers, some of them immigrants, could grow fruits and vegetables. He is also open to coffee, papayas and tree crops.
Always keeping an eye on A&B’s stock price, Benjamin said he hopes the agricultural operations can be done in a “capital lite” fashion, although the company will spend some money.
Benjamin said he is prepared for the criticism A&B is likely to receive in the next few years. There will be arguments over whether the agricultural operations should use water and “there are going to be people who are very impatient, who will say you must not be serious,” he said.
“We have been doing battle for a long time.” Benjamin said. Agriculture “is the highest and best use of these lands. If we threw the towel in on it, we would be squandering these lands from their highest and best use.”
Benjamin said he believes the “new model” of diversified agriculture can work on the former sugar plantation.
“It will be a quilt as opposed to a blanket” of sugar, he said. “Establishing viable agriculture on these central Maui lands will not be easy, but we are committed to being good stewards of these lands and working with the county, state, and other partners in the community to improve food security in Hawaii and make diversified agriculture on Maui a success.”
But as determined as he is to make the new model work, there is a certain nostalgia in Benjamin’s voice for his sugar roots in Hawaii.
Perhaps that’s why A&B has kept open the plantation’s Sugar Museum. At least local residents and tourists will be still be able to learn about Hawaii’s sugar history.