Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Reflections on the visit to Hawaii

John Anderson of DeSmet, Class 4:
“I found the diversity of the crops to be interesting given the size of Hawaii. The thing I found most interesting was the lettuce/tilapia farm where they grew both crops using recycled water and the rainwater. To me, being able to integrate the growing of multiple crops together is being very efficient and will need to be done in the future in all countries.

The variation of rain within the island surprised me. What also surprised me was the shipping of feeder cattle to the mainland vs feeding the cattle in Hawaii. I know they don’t have a grain feed supply but the shipping cost of cattle is substantial.

Overall, the trip was very interesting. My take away from the trip regarding agriculture is that every part of the world has issues regarding agriculture. There is no perfect place to be in production agriculture. Hawaii doesn’t have the cold weather and has great climate for the most part but that can cause other issues. Maybe we don’t have it so bad in South Dakota except for the cold winters.”

Terry Jaspers of Sisseton, Class 3:
“The most interesting and fascinating is how producers adapted to the climate and the economics of growing a specific crop in a specific location.  From a big picture standpoint the overall conversion from sugar cane and pineapple plantations to intensively grazed grassland, vegetable, fruits and seed corn was very interesting.  We had seen similar conversions in New Zealand from sheep to dairy, Argentina, grass and cattle to soybeans, corn. I wish we could have spent more time at the Queen Bee business but we got a quick overview of what they were doing. It would be nice to know more about the economics of bee keeping and the major issues facing the honey business.”

Marshall Edelman of Willow Lake, Class 2
The best stop for me was Ponoholo Ranch. Being a cowman 24/7 probably influenced that somewhat. It was very interesting to see the differences in rainfall, etc. I believe I read somewhere that almost all the different climates in the world are represented on the big island except for two. That is amazing.
The ability to raise GMO seed in Hawaii is very important to us here on the mainland as we strive to feed the world. If we lose the ability to produce GMO seeds in Hawaii this will have a devastating effect on our industry.

Bill Slovek of Phillip Class 4
This was the first time for me in Hawaii and all of it was exciting. The most interesting thing is that the volcanoes that formed the islands are still active. Being able to see that was great. 
I never realized there were so many vegetables and fruits, some that I’d never heard of in my life. It was amazing, the different things they have and there are some that are pretty good. Many don't make it to the central United States and a lot of what they produce goes to Asian markets.

As far as cows, it would be fun to ranch in Hawaii and not have to have a hydro swing, a rake and a baler. I wouldn’t have to work all summer to put up hay and then feed the cows all winter.  

After visiting with the cattle ranchers who send their cattle on boats or planes to California to finish, I ran some of the numbers. I figure that what it costs them to ship the critters to the mainline is about the same that I spend on machinery, fuel and labor to put up hay and haul it. I think it could be fun!

To me, it was really interesting to see people trying to grow food without any land. The aquaculture operation raising fish and lettuce floating on Styrofoam in a tank was fascinating. They can be more sustainable with a limited amount of land. It was really neat to see how creative they can be.

Gary Cammack of Union Center, Class 1
The Ponoholo Ranch was the best visit for me as I guess I could most readily identify with the operation. There were a lot of similarities and a lot of differences, really more similarities than differences.

Flying the cattle to the mainland was interesting. It would add a freight charge on top of the bill to go to market. It uses a different mode of transportation. It’s not unlike some of the struggles we deal with each year.

The most diverse ag enterprise and the one I had the hardest time wrapping my head around, was the abalone farm, where it takes 3 years to raise 3.7 million abalone in tanks. That was the most different endeavor.

Connie Sieh Groop of Frederick, Class 6:
In Hawaii, soil, or what is referred to as soil, all originates with the volcano, either millions of years ago or 200 years ago. On the Big Island of Hawaii, land near the road on the west side looked like a barren wasteland while other areas were green and lush with foliage.
Near the Kilauea Volcano, we visited a winery. The manager told me that in order to plant the vines, they used jackhammers to carve out a 2-foot wide trench in the volcanic rock. They put in compost, then added some dirt and the vine cuttings. The jackhammer cracks the rock so the roots can take hold. They are near enough to the volcano that sometimes, when the winds are from the wrong direction, the blossoms on the vines are affected from the sulfur gasses from the volcano. They also grow are able to grow white, green and black tea in that area. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Volcanos, tea and flowers

The Hawaiian islands were built by volcanoes and evidence is seen especially on the Big Island. Some of us went on to tour Volcano National Park. Our guides, Josh and Jill live close to the area where there is active lava threatening some of the homes. Each day reports are given, indicating what to expect. There is only a small area that is impacted but an eruption could impact that area at any time. Scientists are constantly monitoring signs. We couldn't get close to the crater or any lava but witnessed the area from a distance and could see steam rising from rifts. We also walked through a lava vent created many years ago. The area shows the result of 70 million years of volcanism, migration and changes.
On the way back to our motel, we stopped at store featuring orchids and a winery. At the winery, they said that sometimes, winds blow the sulfur dioxide gases toward their vines and that can damage the setting of the flowers, reducing the fruit yields.  Because of the gases in the air and the way the winds blow, people can be affected y VOG, volcanic originated gases, which can cause headaches and a congested feeling. The winery also featured white, black and green teas.

Ahhh, smell the coffee!

At the Mountain Thunder Coffee Farm at Kona, Trent Bateman showed us the basics of coffee farming. It takes 3000 of coffee cherries to make one pound of coffee. His trees are grown on the mountain at  3200 ft. which stresses the plant but makes for a phenomenal taste. He said that rust is not a problem but they do have a beetle  borer that likes to eat the beans and has destroyed 25 percent of the world's coffee.  The plant takes 5 years to get to full production and some trees are 100 years old.  The cherries are picked by hand. They also grow Mamaki tea that has antioxidants and is considered like 'chicken soup' by the natives. They have 20 acres of that tree, both wild and propagated. Trent also showed how coffee was graded, dried and roasted. 

The next day, we visited Hilo Coffee Mill which is on the north side of the island and gets much more rain. Small coffee farms are prospering in East Hawaii. This company provides milling for local farmers that includes processing, packaging and marketing.  No batch is too small. . 

Saturday, January 10, 2015


As we hung out on the beach having a few refreshments last night, we could see whales along the shore. Our formal part of our tour is done and now we are splitting off to check out differnt parts of Hawaii or else head for our frigid homes in South Dakota. Thanks to Dan Gee for all of the work done to put together this marvelous trip for South Dakota Ag and Rural Leadership Alumni. And thanks to all those in the Hawaii Lead group who helped along the way. Aloha!


Abalone is not familiar to most South Dakotans. At Big Island Abalone at Kona, Hawaii, 3.8 million are grown each year in 450 tanks. Water at 17 degrees celcius from the ocean at a depth of 3000 feet is pumped into the system. The main markets are Aisan countries of Japan, Korea and China. It takes 3 years to grow one abalone. They are packed live in oxgenated water in special styrofoamboxes and  airfreighted to customers, arriving within 30 hours of being taken from the tank.


Decadent chocolate

Jan. 9: Bob Cooper of the Original Hawaiian Chocolate factory at Kailua-Kona, Hawaii took us into his stand of cacao trees, showing us where the pods form on the trees. He talked about the care of the trees. It takes 150 days for the trees to make the pods which are hand harvested. The beans are taken from the pods and go through a series of steps before getting to the point where the chocolate is turned into bars for consumption. He has about 1350 trees on 1 acre of land. SDARL alumni taste tested the chocolate and gave it a thumbs up!

Queen bees

As farmers and ranchers, we know the importance of bees to our industry. Gus Rouse, owner of Kona Queen Company at Captain Cook, Hawaii, has found a niche market as the world's largest producer of queen bees. He's familiar with bee operations and knows that South Dakota is the No.1 producer of honey. Each queen is worth $20 and boxes of hundreds of bees are shipped in specially made boxes that include food the each queen. Gus has been in the busines for 40 years and has 38 employees.Gus is on the Monsanto advisory board to understand the decline in bees. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Flying cows

Jan. 8: At Ponohola Ranch outside of Hawi, it was fascinating to learn how cattle are handled on a piece of land that runs from the ocean to the mountains. The area two miles wide and 10 miles long is in the hands of fifth and sixth generation ranchers. Sabrina White is the assistant manager of the commerical cow/calf oeration with Angus and Charolais cattle. She described how calves are shipped to the United States when they are around 400 pounds to feedyards for finishing. The animals either go in special containers that go on boats for seven days or they fly on a 747 jet, about 120 animals weighing 100,000 lbs.There is more interest in raising the animals to finished weight in Hawaii. The feed on the mainland such as hay and corn aren't available to the aimals in Hawaii. 
She also discussed grazing practices and water issues.

Muushroom farming

Jan. 8; Bob Stanga shared how he went from being a helicopter pilot to owning Hamkua Mushrooms in Laupahoehoe. The mushrooms are grown in a mixture of sawdust and corn cobs in specially made jars from Japan. Mushrooms were cooked on a grill for sampling. June also shared other products that include mushrooms including coffee, cookies and butter.

SDARL alumni at Wailea Ag

Garden paradise

Lesley Hill and Mike Crowell have restored highly erodible sugar cane lands to produce a wide variety of tropical flowers and foliage, tropical fruits and spices and specialize in producing Hawaiian heart of palm. Wailea Agricultural Group has 170 acres. The group enjoyed lunch served in the event area featuring Bali type buildings and furnishings.Wild pigs can be quite harmful. In the last two years, hunters have harvested about 200 pigs each year that were getting into the crops. Duran,the king of fruit, and mango, the queen of fruit were checked out by the class. 

Research on finishing cattle on grass

Jan. 8: Perry Kealoha of Kamehameha Schools Cattle Project at Pa'auhau, Hamakua shared the research project looking to see if cattle can be finished out economically in Hawaii by using a higher protein grass by the name of Leucaena. The first goal is to "farm the grass." SDARL alumni viewed the grass paddocks and will be interested to see the results.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Day to play

Wednesday was a day to fly from Oahu to the Big Island. Before resuming our tour, the group relaxed a bit. Some of our group headed out to golf, others rented a car and drove around. Time on the beach was enjoyed. Sea turles were seen sunning themselves on the beach. 
While enjoying the time in the sun, here is some info on the beaches: Parrotfishes, or uhu in Hawaiian, are key players in regulating algae and reef life. Their parrot-like beaks and fused-together teeth are used for scraping and biting dead coral, while additional teeth in their throats help to break it all down into sand. Snorkelers can actually hear them chomping or see the bite marks they leave on rocks.
Because parrotfishes don’t have stomachs, their meals pass straight through the long intestine, exploding in a cloud of sand out the backdoor. Larger parrotfish are like sand factories, producing as much as 840 pounds of sand per year. For Oahu’s snorkeling hot spot, Hanauma Bay (where a few hundred parrotfish graze), that means hundreds of tons of fish-made sand per year.
We also walked next to a field that was lava a couple of hundred years ago.
For some, the day ended with a luau on the beach with a fantastic fire show and  others enjoyed Three Fat Pigs.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Meeting with Hawaii Ag Lead group

Tomorrow we move to the Big Island, staying at Kona for a few days. Before we left Honolulu we enjoyed a beautiful sunset with the Hawaii Ag Lead group with great appetizers, including a few local favorites. Even poi, made from the taro roots was on the menu! It was great to meet these marvelous people. We share a similar type program and we hope to work with them in the future.

Ambitious produce adventure

The smell of fresh basil greeted the ag group as they visited with Alvin Ty Law of Fat Law Farms. The company raises a number of crops unfamiliar to the group including dragon fruit, Thai basil, varieties of eggplant and Moringa trees. They have about 280 acres that are used to grow fresh herbs and produce for the islands.

More on the seed industry

Our group visited the fields of Syngenta at Kunia. The parent seed corn is planted at 38,000 seeds per acre in the special irrigated plots with the result sent back to the states. With three growing seasons per year,  the ability to plant in Hawaii speeds up the production of the product for farmers. The corn is picked, husked and then checked again for quality before being dried and then sorted.

Beautiful enough to be in the movies

The Kualoa Ranch is a working ranch near Kaneohe, Hawaii. Owner John Morgan joined us for a tour of the beautiful sites, some that have been in movies such as Jurassic Park, 40 First Dates, Pearl Harbor, Windtalkers. The bunker shown below was built after Pearl Harbor to protect this side of the island and now houses memorabilia from the various movie shoots. In addition to raising cattle, the ranch is a popular site for tourists to visit.  Frustrated with those critical of ranching, Morgan said, "If we got rid of all of the cattle, then the invasive species would take over."