Drought dries Big Island ranches and farms - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Drought dries Big Island ranches and farms

Al Galimba Al Galimba
Lorie Obra Lorie Obra
Lester Ueda Lester Ueda
Michelle Galimba Michelle Galimba

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email 

KAU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - On the slopes of Naalehu and Pahala on the Big Island sits a land heaven is holding hostage by holding back the rain.

"Due to this prolonged drought we're down to about a week's supply of water. If everything ceased today, in a week we're out of water," Al Galimba said.

Galimba and his family own Kuahiwi Ranch. They tend to 1,700 cows on a 10,000 acre spread. The free-range cattle used to feed on healthy green grass that stood head high. Now it's bleached, brown and brittle.

The National Weather Service categorizes the drought effects in South Kohala and Kau as extreme or exceptional dryness.

The dry spell has burned holes in the pockets of ranchers and farmers. The Galimbas buy feed to supplement what nature used to supply and the cost is enormous.

"Every container that comes in, that's another $12,000 right down the drain," Al Galimba said.

The drought is equally brutal on Kau coffee growers like Lorie Obra, who owns Rusty's Hawaiian 100% Kau Coffee.

A well-watered tree produces beans that go from green to a deep shade of red before being dried for market. Dehydrated trees look like skeletons whose beans are few and far between.

"Without water either the flowers fall off or it produces beans that don't fully develop," Obra said.

The statewide drought started in 2008. It's gotten worse the past year and sections of the Big Island are the hardest hit. But there is help for farmers and ranchers.

The USDA Farm Service Agency offers low interest loans, drought assistance payments, and assistance in the field to get water to dry spots.

"We have a program that can help get troughs and water out there so they can better utilize their pastures," program specialist Lester Ueda said.

The Galimbas have applied with the state to tap into a water source above their ranch. The permit is pending. They also limit the number of cattle that graze in one place to keep the dry grass alive.

"We have to start looking at our cattle numbers and culling more aggressively," Michelle Galimba said.

Cattle ranchers and coffee growers are striving to adapt and straining to outlast the drought that shows no sign of letting up. Every day without rain is another day without water.

More about this story on HawaiiNewsNow.com:

Drought continues to worsen in Hawaii

Copyright 2010 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved

Powered by Frankly