BY MELORA PURELL
SPECIAL TO NORTH HAWAII NEWS
“The sustainability of Parker Ranch and the sustainability of Waimea are linked,” said Dutch Kuyper, CEO of Parker Ranch, Inc., in a presentation to the Waimea Community Association at its monthly Town Meeting on Aug. 2.
Not only is the ranch the largest landowner in North Hawaii, but the Parker Ranch Foundation Trust, supported by the for-profit business, donates more than 15 million dollars a year to its four beneficiaries in Waimea: North Hawaii Community Hospital, Parker School, Hawaii Preparatory Academy, and the Richard Smart Fund at Hawaii Community Foundation.
Kuyper detailed a view of the future in which both food and energy prices will rise faster than family income. In this scenario, Hawaii Island will need to become more self-sufficient by producing locally grown food and by harnessing the potential of renewable energy sources, he said. The ranch plans to address these challenges by putting more of its land into food production, including an increase in tillable crop acres, as well as a movement toward local grass-finished beef.
A partnership between Parker Ranch and the Honolulu-based social-investment fund Ulupono Initiative is doing research to assess the viability of large-scale, Hawaii-based grass-finished beef. Currently, Parker Ranch’s cattle are following the cow-calf production model, where weanlings are shipped via airplane to mainland feedlots, where they are fattened with grain. But the volatility of the fuel and grain markets make this a risky proposition, Kuyper said.
“The grass-finished beef model is important on many fronts, especially to develop a strategic hedge within our business against the risk of rising energy prices in the future,” Kuyper said. “We need to do more unconventional thinking.”
Seeking capitol from external sources like the Ulupono Initiative and forming more strategic partnerships will help the ranch to weather the volatility of fuel and food markets, Kuyper said.
“Planning for uncertainty is the challenge,” said meeting attendee Rob Shallenberger.
Hawaii has made a commitment that by the year 2030, 40 percent of the state’s fuel production will come from local, renewable sources. Parker Ranch started moving towards energy self-sufficiency in 1999, with the installation of the “Ranching the Sun” project. This hybrid solar-wind facility just south of Waimea town was built to provide the energy needed for pumping livestock water. Plans for the future include expansion of the hybrid facility, along with consideration of new fuel sources like waste-to-energy and biomass, Kuyper said.
When asked at the meeting about future sales or development of ranch land, Kuyper explained that except for a few small projects, the mandate from the trustees is clear: “Don’t sell land.”
Kuyper’s final announcement of the evening elicited a round of enthusiastic applause from meeting attendees: a memorandum of understanding had been signed between Parker Ranch and Hawaii County for the use of 24 acres of Parker Ranch land by the county Department of Parks and Recreation for the construction of the Waimea District Park. This recreational facility went through an extensive community review and planning process, culminating in the publication of a Master Plan in October 2009. It will be located adjacent to the Parker Ranch rodeo arena, and will include two football or soccer fields, youth baseball field, gymnasium, parking, and gathering areas.
“It’s exciting,” said Waimea resident Jo Jeter. “These are good ideas to help our community.”
For more information about Parker Ranch, visit their website at http://parkerranch.com. To view the Waimea District Park Master Plan, visit http://waimeatown.org/documents/Park-MP-Community-Meeting-10272009.pdf.