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Cows, cocktails and cane - 2 weeks in Hawaii


I have just returned from a wonderful 2 weeks in Hawaii and finding the return to work somewhat challenging!

While the thought of Hawaii usually conjures pictures of beaches, shopping and cocktails, we discovered a series of islands rich in history, natural wonders and agriculture.

And just like in Australian agriculture, the biggest challenges are the weather, consumers preferences and input costs.

On ‘Big Island’ (officially known as Hawai’i but that’s just confusing) there are 10 different climate zones so in the space of a few minutes it’s possible to go from harsh, arid desert to tropical rainforest to temperate grasslands. In Australia we are well aware of the different management techniques, challenges and benefits that occur across our vast landscape, but in Hawai’i farmers and ranchers often have to contend with these variances within one property.

Being based on the sides of volcanoes the ranches range anywhere from sea level up to over 7,000 ft (2100m). As a result, many of the ranchers operate two cow herds, a summer calving group in their higher paddocks, and a winter calving group at lower elevations, using different bloodlines in each. At these elevations there is almost no surface water and with the water table effectively at sea level, water must be pumped – often from the county mains supply to cattle. At one ranch water costs alone are over $US70/head each year.

The biggest question we’d had prior to visiting Hawaii was where they got cattle processed. On Big Island there are two abattoirs but insufficient capacity to process all the cattle. There are no live export ships operating out of Hawaii as it is illegal for a non-USA ship to operate between two US ports. Hence weaners are sent to the US mainland in ‘cowtainers’ – 2 deck shipping containers fitted with feed and watering systems but which can be transported on ordinary cargo ships. At around U$150/head to ship, this is not a low input system.

Hawaii was once a major part of the US sugar industry but this year will be the last harvest. Unlike most of Australia the cane in Hawaii was still burnt before harvest. With increasing numbers of tourists and lifestyle seekers enjoying the beaches and tropical rainforests the pollution caused by the cane fires has became a problem that can no longer be tolerated.

The final part of our trip included a trip to the WWII Valour in the Pacific Memorial at Pearl Harbor. We’d allowed a full day and this was barely enough to see and appreciate the history, the technology and the skill of the sailors, pilots and soldiers who fought so bravely.

I would definitely recommend Hawaii as a holiday destination and now that the Australian $ is back over US$0.75, a slightly more affordable one when we went!


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