Some of the beef processing facilities on the mainland are closing because of COVID-19. This is causing concern for the cattle industry in Hawaii. These facilities are very important because that is where the animals get processed, packaged, and sent to grocery stores.

“We import 88-percent of our beef products, so obviously if there is any shortage or any interruption in beef supplies on the mainland, we will be affected,” said Keith Unger.

Unger is the President of the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council and also manages the McCandless Ranch in South Kona. The majority of the calves raised in Hawaii get shipped to the mainland. While there are processing facilities in Hawaii that could provide some flexibility, Unger says it is limited.

“For the most part, processing facilities are operating at maximum capacity and so to ask them to produce more, unless we build more processing facilities, we are at maximum capacity right now…then you’re back down to well how many cattle here are ready for processing? How many 1200-pound grass-fed steers are ready to be shipped to these processing facilities?

Unger tells us Matson has recently allowed shipments of livestock. Currently, he’s able to sell his 400-pound calves but the price per pound has dropped.

“If the processors on the mainland are closing plants and not processing,” he said, “that will be a ripple effect all the way down to my buyer in Waimea, buying my cattle, he’ll either not buy or it will negatively impact the price.”

According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the bottleneck may cause a temporary limitation of certain cuts but there is no actual shortage of beef. We’re told it’s a matter of getting it through the supply chain to consumer’s hands.

So why not raise more cattle for the local market? Unger says the challenges are finding more pasture to raise cattle and building more processing facilities.

“That’s something the cattle industry is looking at and really trying to figure out how because that is where we want to be.”