Heritage Crops

1816
Haleakala ranch cowboys
Haleakala Ranch cowboys, seen here in the early 1900s. Branding hasn’t changed much since the early days, and some current cowboys are descendants of those who worked here generations ago.

Herding Together

The desire to keep Maui cattle on Maui land was a major factor in the decision by six isle ranches—Haleakala, ‘Ulupalakua, Hāna, Kaupō, Ulumau, and Nobriga—to form Maui Cattle Company in 2002. President Alex Franco explains, “Maui Cattle Company is an agribusiness, a joint effort by all the partners. The ranches are our owners; we purchase and process the cattle, do marketing. We take care of our animals start to finish. That adds jobs, adds sustainability.”

Helping to ensure that all of MCC’s beef is truthfully “Born and Grazed in Hawai‘i,” Alexander & Baldwin, one of the state’s Big Five corporations, has established a grazing ranch on 4,000 acres of former sugarcane land, fields whose terrain made harvesting difficult. Kūlōlio Ranch manager Jacob Tavares sees another win-win in the venture. “From a statewide perspective, we’re seeing sugar changing to diversified agriculture. [Lack of] quality grasslands and slaughter facilities were challenges; with Kūlōlio, we can take some of the burden off ranchers.”

Tavares explains that each member ranch has the kuleana [responsibility] of raising its own animals. “We coordinate all the moving parts, perfect the genetics, processing . . . so many aspects. We planted signal grass, a perennial originally from Australia, that complements what’s growing here. It prevents runoff, provides carbon sequestration, water retention . . . it’s great grass for keeping the soil in place.”

Instead of traditional harvesting methods for sugarcane—burning the fields and scraping the remaining stalks, along with topsoil—Tavares says Kūlōlio is using earthworms and organic materials to build topsoil, and employing holistic grazing practices. “We’ve learned a lot. We take the extra steps because we care about the land. It’s not just rhetoric—we have to have business that supports existing lands. Conservation and ranching are similar. I sit on the Land Commission and see the work we do is very land friendly.”

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