Maui Rancher Crippled by Another Drought

Sumner Erdman
Sumner Erdman

ULUPALAKUA, Maui (KHNL) -- Dry conditions continue to impact a lot of people in Maui. On our drought watch map, you can see the severe conditions on the southwest side of the Valley Isle. In upcountry Maui, a cattle rancher hopes it isn't as bad as the last dry spell -- still fresh in his mind.

Sumner Erdman is a second generation cattle rancher, born and raised in upcountry Maui. This dry spell reminds him of the drought from 1997 to 2003.

"It had a very negative effect on us," said Erdman, president of Ulupalakua Ranch. "It cut our cow numbers by about 25 percent."

Erdman is still rebuilding. This year's rainfall is well below normal, and the ranch looks noticeably different.

What used to be lush grass is now dry brush. This means the cows here don't have enough food to eat, which leads to lower reproductive rates.

And the longer this drought lasts, the tougher it's going to get.

"At some point, you run out of feed," said Erdman. "So, the real problem is that you have to start decreasing your number of cows. We're already in the process of trying to decrease the herd by about 10 percent right at the moment."

On top of that, everyone in upcountry Maui is under a mandatory 10 percent water reduction.

"We're not washing vehicles, washing equipment," said Erdman. "We're doing those kind of things which over long term has some wear and tear effects on your machinery."

Despite all this, Erdman remains hopeful.

"You get through 'em," he said. "We're at nature's whim. You get used to that."

Dealing with drought, in a place -- ironically -- surrounded by water.

Erdman is working on an irrigation system to help preserve his livelihood. He is also looking at making his ranch more efficient.