OPINION | Revival of the Tinian beef industry

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LAST month the Tinian Leadership presented the Strategic Plan for the Tinian Beef Industry to the Tinian community.

Tinian’s ranchers and grazing permit holders were invited to this meeting to learn about the Plan and have an open discussion about its contents and, more broadly, the commercialization of Tinian’s cattle ranches.

The Strategic Plan outlines the steps that need to be taken to bring Tinian beef to the market, as well as priorities and challenges facing industry players. In particular it addresses issues such as marketing Tinian beef, the operation of the Tinian Slaughterhouse, achieving commercial-grade product quality, and access to pasture. The Strategic Plan is by no means a final document, however, and we actively seek continued dialogue with ranchers and other important stakeholders to fine-tune the Plan to better fit our island’s needs.

While the Plan is still in its infancy, this does not preclude the Tinian Leadership from forming the partnerships needed to support the Tinian beef industry. Both CDA and NMC-CREES have pledged their support for Tinian beef by seeking industry expertise and seed funding. I am also grateful to the DPL for their continued support in ensuring our ranchers retain access to their pastures. Furthermore, the Tinian Leadership is exploring the possibility of a public-private partnership to help our ranchers bring their products to market. We look forward to building more relationships with stakeholders from both public and private sectors, including our military and other agricultural initiatives on Saipan, Rota and the Northern Islands.

Patricia Coleman from NMC-CREES speaks to Tinian ranchers and grazing  permit holders on June 18, 2020.  Contributed photo

Why beef?

The Tinian Leadership believes that Tinian has the foundations to develop a viable, sustainable beef industry. Ranching on Tinian peaked during the Trust Territory era when Ken Jones established the Bar-K ranch on the island. It was during this time that Tinian had, as is commonly said, “more cows than people.” Importantly, the Bar-K ranch and other Tinian ranchers supported regular meat exports to the rest of the Marianas during this era. For instance, in FY1977 Tinian exported over 180,000 pounds of beef to both Saipan and Guam.

Today Tinian finds itself in an advantageous position to revive its beef industry. There are currently about 1,500 head of cattle belonging to over 30 families on Tinian. While most families run  ranches for subsistence, there are more than a few ranchers who export their free-range, grass-fed cattle to Saipan for eventual sale at the Garapan Public Market. The Tinian Cattlemen’s Association was established to represent the best interests of our ranchers, and has played an active role in reviving the Tinian beef industry. Most notably, the TCA successfully procured a USDA-certified slaughterhouse in 2018 with the help of the Tinian Leadership, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and a private sector partner. Once operations are established, the Tinian Slaughterhouse will have the capacity to process both cattle and pork in an efficient and sanitary manner.

In sum, the Tinian community, together with its leadership and partners, stands ready to revitalize the Tinian beef industry.

Tinian beef will help diversify our resources

Diversifying Tinian’s local economy is a primary objective of the Strategic Plan. While tourism has made great contributions to our economy in the last two decades, it is unwise to rely solely on a single industry for our livelihood, let alone one as volatile as tourism. In establishing the Tinian beef industry, we can generate the economic activity needed to provide added economic stability for our community. A domestic beef industry means Tinian ranchers can finally achieve their dreams of earning their livelihood off their land and their herd. With domestic commercial beef, there is also opportunity for businesses to develop home-grown value-added products such as sausage, ground beef and jerky,

just to name a few. By investing in domestic beef, we can increase demand for workers right here at home: from ranch hands to business managers to Slaughterhouse operators, we can create jobs that provide more than just a paycheck, but also the social mobility needed to thrive on our islands.

A domestic beef industry will also promote food security for our people. I think we can all agree that food insecurity is one of the most significant issues facing our islands. Over 90 percent of the food we consume in the CNMI is imported to meet our people’s demand for fresh food, and as such our food supply is incredibly vulnerable to disruptions in global supply chains.

Both Super Typhoon Yutu and the Covid-19 pandemic are stark reminders of our food supply’s fragility. Closed borders mean less fresh food will be available to our people, especially consumers on Tinian and Rota, or higher prices for the food that is available. Meat processing plants across the United States have emerged as hotspots for Covid-19 infections, with estimates showing a 20% decrease in the supply of meat from domestic factories. Limited supply may drive up wholesale prices of meat, which in turn drives up the price of meat products at our local stores. It remains to be seen what effect  these Covid-19-related closures have had on the CNMI; however, the pandemic gives isolated jurisdictions such as ours more impetus to increase our reliance on homegrown food. A domestic beef industry can help the CNMI diversify its food sources and ensure that meat products are readily available to our people, even in times of disaster. As a government, we must follow in the footsteps of island nations like Singapore and support our domestic food producers who feed our communities when our trading partners cannot.

In closing

The Tinian Leadership and the Tinian Cattlemen’s Association are excited to share their vision with the CNMI. I’d like to reiterate that the Strategic Plan for the Tinian Beef Industry is a working draft and will require more input from our stakeholders. Our June 18 meeting was just the beginning of what I hope to be a long conversation on how we can revitalize domestic industry, establish food security and provide economic opportunity for our region. As we continue to dialogue with the community, I invite you to explore the Strategic Plan and give us feedback on how we can improve this effort. To access the Strategic Plan, please contact my office at 664-8868 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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