Seventy-five percent of the beef produced in Hawaii is raised on the Big Island. But local beef producers, especially small farmers and ranchers, who want to sell their beef here sometimes face a challenge in getting it slaughtered locally.
To ease that challenge, a new producer-owned cooperative called Hawai‘i Island Meat (HIM) is bringing in the island’s first mobile slaughter unit to process pigs, sheep, goats, and cattle. The unit will open for business on the island in early 2016. HIM will hold two free informational workshops for producers interested in the service. The workshops will be held in Hilo from 5 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, May 17, at the Komohana Agricultural Research Station, 875 Komohana St., and in Pahala from 5 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 14, at the Pahala Community Center, 96-1149 Kamani St.
“Like their counterparts in the continental United States, many meat producers on Hawai‘i Island face significant barriers to starting and maintaining their businesses,” notes a press release from HIM. “Despite its abundant ranch lands and ranching operations, the island currently imports 17 percent of its beef and more than 95 percent of its pork, lamb, and goat products due to competition from imported meat products, high operational costs, and insufficient access to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspected slaughterhouses.”
The island currently has two USDA-certified slaughterhouses: Kulana Foods in Hilo and a state-owned facility that is leased to Hawai’i Beef Producers, a partnership between David DeLuz Sr. and a group of ranchers. The state-owned facility recently underwent a $4.5 million expansion. Despite that, when a task force assembled by the Big Island Resource Conservation & Development Council, Hawai‘i Small Business Development Center, and The Kohala Center asked Big Island ranchers about a mobile slaughter unit, “90 percent of those surveyed said they were interested in using the unit and 70 percent committed to investing their own money in the project.” In response to those numbers, HIM was formed. The cooperative’s 36-foot-long mobile unit will bring USDA-inspected slaughter services directly to ranches and regional docking sites around the island, reducing stress on the animals and the quality of the meat by cutting long transport trips. The unit can slaughter and process eight to 10 head of cattle, 15 pigs, and 30 lambs or goats per day.
“Not only will the mobile slaughter unit help to revitalize family ranching operations on Hawai‘i Island, it will increase the amount of healthy, locally grown protein available to our communities, and can be part of the solution to reduce the island’s population of feral and invasive cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats,” said Melanie Bondera, cooperative business development specialist at The Kohala Center. “Locally produced meats are also in high demand by island residents, visitors, and gourmet chefs, so the increased availability will contribute positively to farm-to-fork programs and our local economy.”