Bees, beef, atrazine and Oahu ag land

Good news for grass-fed beef.

Good news for grass-fed beef.

BUZZ
Big Island Sen. Josh Green announced he’ll be “pursuing legislative solutions (as in past years) to protect both people and critical species from the effects of man-made agrochemicals.”

His comment was made after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added seven species of Hawaii’s native yellow-faced bees to the endangered species list last Friday. The bees pollinate native plants, including some that are endangered.

“I’m calling on the governor to take immediate action to assess all possible ways to protect these pollinators, and us, from reckless spraying,” Green stated on Facebook.

However, according to researchers, pesticides are not one of the identified threats to the native pollinators.

Rather, “feral pigs, invasive [predatory] ants, loss of native habitat due to invasive plants, fire, as well as development, especially in some of the coastal areas” are the problems, according to Sarina Jepson, director of endangered species and aquatic programs for the Xerces Society, and research cited in the Federal Register.

The listing includes no critical habitat designation, but does allow the agency to implement recovery programs. They’re the only bees in the nation to gain federal protection, making it illegal to take, harm or kill the insects. Still, the listing offers no insights into how to prevent habitat loss, especially in coastal areas, which removes food sources and nesting sites, and increases invasion by nonnative plants and insects that prey on the bees.

The band-rumped storm-petrel, the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly, the anchialine pool shrimp and 39 species of plants were also added to the list last week.

LOCAL BEEF
Hawaii cattle ranchers could benefit from an expanding market for grass-fed beef. As the Wall Street Journal reports :

Sales of grass-fed beef comprised just 1.4% of the $18 billion fresh-beef market in the U.S. in 2015, but its growth rate has far outpaced conventional beef in recent years, according to market-research firm Nielsen. Last year, sales of grass-fed beef rose nearly 40% over the year before, while conventional beef grew 6.5% during the same period.

The product, which fetches a higher retail price, is now sold at ballgames and every Wal-Mart in the country. A Whole Foods spokesman said that customers who buy the product often want their dogs to eat it, too. But some chefs are reluctant to add it to their menu, saying it isn’t as tasty, tender or consistent as grain-finished beef.

Production guidelines are also inconsistent, with the USDA maintaining one standard and the American Grassfed Association developing its own certification program.

Efforts are under way to expand the Hawaii grass-fed industry through the use of irrigated pastures and the introduction of mobile slaughterhouses.

ATRAZINE

The American Farm Bureau says banning or restricting the use of atrazine would have serious financial costs for farmers and could lead to the return of widespread tillage, which destroys soil structure and is detrimental to crop growth.

The EPA is reviewing the pesticide’s registration, prompting the agency to release a draft ecological risk assessment last June. It asserts that there are impacts to aquatic plant communities where atrazine use is heaviest, and there is potential risk to fish, amphibians and aquatic invertebrates in these locations. There are also risk concerns for mammals, birds, reptiles, and plants for many of the atrazine uses.

In response, the AFB submitted comments warning that corn and sorghum farmers could face costs of $59 per acre for alternative weed control. Loss of the effective weed control product could also prompt farmers to resume widespread tilling, which could reverse conservation gains made there.

Comments on the draft risk assessment are due by 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 5.

NEW PESTS

On Maui, the larvae of two new insect pests — the tortoise beetle and snout beetle— are munching the leaves of eucalyptus trees. As a result, many upcountry eucalyptus trees are dying, creating a fire hazard and potentially damaging electric lines if they fall, reports the Maui Invasive Species Committee.

These new pests could make eucalyptus trees less useful as windbreaks, pasture line markers and erosion control.

WATER WOES IMPACT OAHU FARMS

An inadequate irrigation system has delayed cultivation on the state’s Galbraith Estate lands on Oahu. The state bought 1,200 acres near Wahiawa, which used to be part of the Del Monte pineapple plantation, for $13 million in 2012.

But as The Star-Advertiser reports, initial plans to get the land quickly into production have proven optimistic. So far, only Larry Jefts of Sugarland Growers Inc. and Kalena Farms has pulled off a crop, growing 250 acres of watermelons and bell peppers this past summer.

The state Agribusiness Development Corp. is now moving forward to improve the irrigation system, which required a time-consuming and costly environmental assessment. Legislators this year also approved $13 million to pay for two reservoirs, pumps and other infrastructure.

The first reservoir, which should supply 600 to 900 acres, is expected to be ready by next summer. Kalena and Ohana Best Farm also plan to build their own reservoirs for an estimated $500,000 each, according to the Star-Advertiser.