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 on Hwy. 19 and investigates and demonstrates products for farmers and ranchers- including healthy system crops like grass-fed beef and green tea. We hooked up with Marla Fergerstrom, Mealani manager, for an update on agricultural research.
New Grass in Study
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. 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.” Started in 1987, Mealani boasts one of the Pacific Basin’s largest collections of tropical forage grasses in investigation and demonstration gardens. Forages include pangola and kikuyu grasses and legume covers like perennial peanut. The goal of the forage garden is to make different efficient tropical forages available for ranchers to plant in their pastures.
The research station recently hosted animal science students from U.H. Manoa for a week-long field trip as part of their curriculum. Mealani goes into “breeding mode” during the summer, bringing cows into heat for artificial insemination to ensure a quality, grass-fed herd. Students conveniently stayed in the on-site cottage, attended lectures and got valuable hands-on experience.
Weaning Weights Project
Under the direction of Dr. Ashley Stokes of UH’s Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, Mealani is participating in a Weaning Weights Project. In the study, 24 animals were weaned at three different weight classes: 400, 500 and 600 pounds. These animals were then provided the first grazing from each paddock with weights taken to determine their average daily weight gain. At harvest, the carcasses will be graded according to the USDA standards. Fergerstrom says this info will provide insight to compare the performance of the animals among weight classes.
“The project will examine any differences among study groups in carcass quality and weight,” Fergerstrom explains. “We’ll be looking at the size of the rib eye cut, desired marbling of meat and back fat.”
Also, UH Masters of Science student Whitney Preston recently performed an immunology study on Mealani-born and weaned calves. It provided info to compare immunological status at birth, as shown through genetic profiles, with changes at weaning. Fergerstrom adds that “Mealani is proud to be a part of Whitney’s thesis and she was awarded a Masters of Science degree in July 2012.”
The research facility 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.
Blueberries and Peaches
Mealani hopes to again be serving tastes of its popular blueberries at this year’s Taste of the Hawaiian Range. Research continues on testing 34 different varietals for rust resistance. As part of an Alternative Crop Study started in 2009, Mealani planted a small orchard of different types of tropical fruit trees. The peach trees surprised technicians with their hefty yield this spring. “The fruit wasn’t so big, but there was a lot of it,” Fergerstrom shares. The goal of the blueberry and peach research is to develop alternative crops for farmers.
Mealani is doing a harvest yield study that involves different pruning techniques done at new intervals. Previously, tea was harvested every week and now it’s been pruned every two weeks. Technicians will see if less frequent harvesting increases yield. Mealani has been growing green tea since 1999; it has an acre under cultivation and has also examined methods of tea processing. The facility provides local tea growers with cuttings, educational workshops and tours while striving to develop unique, Hawai’i-grown teas.
For details on how Mealani produces quality, grass-fed beef through research and intensive pasture rotation, visit the Mealani page on the Taste website.