A Look at CTAHR’s Mealani Research Station
Open since the 1960’s, the Mealani Research Station is part of the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR). It’s located on the east side of Waimea, Hawai’i Island, on Hwy. 19 and investigates and demonstrates products for island farmers and ranchers to use.
It’s where Mealani’s Taste of the Hawaiian Range began!
Today’s ag showcase started in 1996 as the Mealani Forage Field Day and A Taste of the Hawaiian Range. During the day, Mealani hosted an on-site Forage Field Day with tours of the forage gardens, educational seminars for ranchers and food producers, plus presentations by top, ag-related speakers, such as Jo Robinson, best-selling author of “Pasture Perfect” and eatwild.com. In the evening, Taste sampling was enjoyed by the public in the Kahilu Town Hall.
Current Research Projects:
- Healthy food system products: tea; blueberries; grass-fed beef
- Forage and pasture grasses for grass-finished livestock
- Disease tolerance and resistance evaluation of protea, sweet and grain corn
- Alternative crops: peaches, persimmon, surinam and bing-type cherries
- Field education of culinary students
- Artificial insemination/cow breeding with UH Animal Science or Pre-Veterinary students
Overview Of Mealani’s Research Projects
Grass-fed Beef—Started 1996. Evaluate on-site herd to analyze genetics of various breeds of cattle for selective breeding through artificial insemination, utilize utlrasound to examine animals for desired meat cut characteristics (rib-eye), utilize low-stress animal handling techniques, work with meat processors to refine processing and tenderizing techniques. Goal: to produce quality grade, forage-finished beef to market within 18 to 24 months that is raised entirely on grass. Develop grass-fed beef as a niche, high-value product that’s free from hormones and antibiotics for the discriminating consumer.
In 2011, a crossbred Angus steer at Mealani was harvested at 20 months of age and was graded as a U.S.D.A. Prime carcass—a first for the research station. U.S. Prime is the highest grade of beef and is of limited supply, with the nation’s foodservice industry widely using U.S. Choice. The main difference between the two is prime has more intramuscular fat, or marbling. Mealani maintains a herd of about 220 animals. Each year, it selects herd replacements (heifer and bulls), project animals (grass-finishing steers and heifers) and any remaining surplus animals are offered for sale in the annual livestock sale in November.
Started 2011, Mealani provides Animal Science and Pre-Veterinary students attending UH Manoa and UH-Hilo hands-on experience in the breeding of the cow herd. Under the instruction of Dr. Ashley Stokes, the sessions cover beef cattle reproduction, genetics, semen handling and performing artificial insemination.
Pasture Rotation—Started 2005. Evaluation trials of intensive grazing techniques using approximately 250 head of cattle to best utilize nutritive values of forage while sustaining paddocks. Research involves daily rotation of separate groups of steers (market animals), heifers (young females) and cow/calves among paddocks so each group of animal is always digesting the same part of the grass stalk. Steers consume the top of the grass, which has the highest protein content, followed by heifers who eat the middle of the stalk and cow/calves, which eat the bottom and get the most fiber. Goal: To utilize forage effectively and to demonstrate the production of healthy, vigorous grass-finished beef on less acreage for efficient land utilization.
Forage Systems—Started 1987. Mealani has one of the Pacific basin’s largest collections of tropical forage grasses in investigation and demonstration gardens. They include pangola and kikuyu grasses and legume covers. Legumes, such as the perennial peanut and leucaena, fix nitrogen in the soil and help other forages grow. Mealani is experimenting with a new variety of grass in its forage garden—Stylo. Planted in March 2012, it’s a nitrogen-fixing forage that animals can graze. Mealani ag technician Marla Fergerstrom says it is drought-tolerant, can thrive in poor soil types and has been used as animal feed that has been “cut and fed.” Goal: To make different efficient tropical forages available for ranchers to plant in their pastures.
Production Of Bio-Control Moths—Started 2013. Mealani is cage-rearing Secusio extensa (Arctiidae) for fireweed suppression and control in pastures. In the 18 months since the inception of this effort, Mealani has distributed over 2,000 caterpillar larvae. Fireweed is an invasive plant toxic to cattle and horses. In partnership with the Hawai’i Dept. of Agriculture (HDOA), Mealani raises the moth larvae until they are a half-inch or more in length for distribution to ranchers.
The larvae voraciously consume the leaves, buds and bark specifically of fireweed plants, which is estimated to have taken over more than 850,000 acres of pastureland, mainly on Hawai’i Island and Maui. The statewide Hawai‘i Cattlemen’s Council has agreed that bio-control is the only feasible, long-term option for control of fireweed. The Council funded the first exploratory trips by HDOA entomologists to southern Africa and Madagascar to search for an insect or disease that could safely control fireweed. The state approved release of the moth in 2010, with federal approval finalized in 2012. While this bio-control doesn’t eliminate fireweed, Fergerstrom says it makes the plant weak. After six months of production, Mealani has released thousands of larvae to ranchers. Distribution of the insect is done by UH’s Kamuela Cooperative Extension Office, 887-6183, or contact Mealani for more info, 887-6185.
Tea—Started 1999. Evaluation trials of one acre of tea containing 10 cultivars, plus 320 different seedlings for possible cultivar development. Research includes ag production techniques, harvest yield studies, quality control and product processing to remove plant bitterness and astringencies. Mealani provides local tea society growers with cuttings, educational workshops and tours of station planting. In 2013, CTAHR started offering Tea 101 workshops at Mealani to teach the steps of growing and hand-processing Hawaii-grown tea. Tea propagation workshops were added in 2014. Led by CTAHR Extension Economist Stuart Nakamoto and UH extension agent Randy Hamasaki, classes are geared to existing tea growers and those interested in growing and producing tea as a business. Future sessions are planned for homeowners, hobbyists and tea enthusiasts. For info, 887-6183. Goal: to develop unique Hawai‘i-grown teas.
Blueberries—Started 2005. Evaluation trials in and out of hot house of 34 warm-clime varieties that don’t require a high chill. Research includes ag production, acclimatization to environment, resistances to disease (rust), pruning methods and timing for production in high-value market windows. Goal: to develop blueberries as an alternative crop for farmers.
Alternative Crops—Started in 2009, Mealani planted a small arboretum of fruit trees to test varieties requiring a “lesser chill” than the temperate-zoned U.S. Mainland. Different types of peach, Surinam and bing-type cherries, plus persimmon are under observation. Goal: To develop alternative fruit crops.
- Cultivation efforts for tropical peaches were stepped up in 2014 with trials on four varieties: Tropic Snow, Tropic Sweet, Tropic Beauty and Tropic Prime. Trials are in progress at Mealani and other locations via cooperative volunteers. Mealani offered workshops on tree care that included pruning for better fruit set and techniques for achieving larger fruit size production. Goal: to get a marketable peach grown in Hawai’i
Field Education of Culinary Students—Initiated in 2010, Mealani invites college and high school culinary students and instructors to learn about its research products—especially grass-fed beef. At field station visits, future chefs meet the individuals involved in raising the cattle and view production practices. The visits encourage interaction and foster understanding between future chefs and food producers. The vision of this program has several goals:
- To educate chefs about what effort goes into the product and its benefits, so they use it.
- To provide chefs with the opportunity to communicate with food producers so they better understand production challenges.
- To provide food producers with the opportunity to communicate with those who use their product so they comprehend culinary expectations. It’s found that producers can do a better job if they have a relationship with the buyer.
- Expand program so future chefs visit private ranches, food producers and food handlers.
Other Stations—Mealani is one of CTAHR’s five Big Isle research stations managed by Marla Fergerstrom, ag research technician. The others are in Hamakua, the Lalamilo section of Waimea, Kainaliu and Capt. Cook. Each location has its own micro-climate and projects, such as evaluation of tropical orchard crops in Kona and koa forestry trials on the Hamakua Coast. Located on the dry side of Waimea, the 17-acre Lalamilo Station works closely with area farmers to address pest and disease problems and help with varietal development. The Big Island also has CTAHR research stations in Waiakea, Volcano and Malama-Ki.
CTAHR—Established in 1907 as the College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources is the founding college of the University of Hawai‘i. CTAHR is an intergral part of UH’s Carnegie I Research Institution designation and is federally mandated to fulfill UH’s threefold land grant mission of instruction, scientific research and outreach. CTHAR’S many programs cover a wide range of services and offerings: 4-H Youth; ag diagnostic service; aquaculture; alternative crops; disease management; floriculture; forestry; Hawaiian Homelands; insect pests and invasive species management; healthy families; livestock; pasture and animal waste management; ornamentals and urban horticulture; tropical fruits, nuts and coffee; vegetables and water quality. For more info, visit www.ctahr.hawaii.edu.