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Frequently Asked Questions

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What is Hawaii Dairy Farms?

Hawaii Dairy Farms is a pasture-based dairy farm being developed on approximately 557 acres in Mahaulepu valley on Kauai. The farm site, leased from Grove Farm/Mahaulepu Farm, has been designed with experts from around the world to utilize a pasture-based rotational grazing approach for a more sustainable dairy model. It will be the first commercial use of designated Important Agricultural Lands (IAL) on Kauai for local food production.

Why is Hawaii Dairy Farms different?

Traditionally, Hawaii’s dairies have used a conventional feedlot model where cows are confined in a barn and fed a diet consisting of grain, hay and silages. This is the format used in most mainland dairies, which is what most people think of when a dairy is mentioned.  Hawaii Dairy Farms will use rotational, pasture-based grazing that consists primary of grass as a feed, supplemented with grain and vitamins to supply the total dietary requirements for milk production and health. In addition, the farm will use precision agricultural technology to monitor the health of the cows, the productivity of the grass and the management of the effluent to ensure environmental safety. The pasture has been designed using 118 paddocks that allow 6 groups of 115-150 cows in phase one to rotate through their assigned 18 pastures over the course of 18 days. Cows move about the farm using a system of raceways that provide a soft limestone path for them to get to and from the milking parlor. The cows will spend 22 hours of every day grazing and resting in the pasture. Minimal effluent is excreted during the 2 hours of milking. The little that is will be highly diluted and irrigated back onto the paddocks as a weak nutrient for grass production as needed. The total approach closely aligns to the cow’s natural life cycle and, as a result, the cow lives for two to three times the normal U.S. dairy cow lifespan.

How much milk will Hawaii Dairy Farms produce?

At steady-state of 699 cows, Hawaii Dairy Farms will produce roughly 1.2 million gallons of milk each year, which will significantly increase statewide local milk production. Until 1984, Hawaii produced 100 percent of its milk through local dairies. By 2008, costs had skyrocketed for importing feed and other materials, causing nearly all of the local dairies to close. The two remaining dairies on the Big Island only produce about 9 percent of the state’s milk supply, leaving the rest to be imported from the continental U.S. Hawaii Dairy Farms’ operation, combined with existing local milk production, will increase the total volume of local milk produced.  This will further decrease the state’s dependence on imported milk and bolster food security for the islands.

Why did Hawaii Dairy Farms choose to base its operations on Kauai?

More than 6 years ago, Grove Farm started working on how to restart Kauai’s dairy industry. New models were considered and it was determined that New Zealand’s pasture-based model would be the cleanest, most cost-effective, sustainable method. Grove Farm, Finistere Ventures, Kamehameha Schools, Maui Land & Pineapple and Ulupono Initiative partnered to do grass trials statewide to find the best site for the state’s first pasture-based dairy. Kauai was found to be the optimal location and Mahaulepu provided ideal conditions, including its designation as Important Agricultural Lands for food production. Grove Farm/Mahaulepu Farm is leasing the Mahaulepu site to Hawaii Dairy Farms.

If the permits aren’t finalized, why is work taking place on the dairy site now?

The approval of the Conservation Plan allowed for the County to issue a grading and grubbing permit exemption, which was needed to prepare the pasture. Guinea grass has been removed through a variety of methods including disking and a five-bottom plow to make way for the growth of the Kikuyu grass that will be used for the farm. The irrigation system was also installed to help maintain the pasture growth so that it will be ready when approvals are received and the cows arrive since the grass is the main source of feed for the herd.

What is the timeline for construction and operations?

We received our building permit approval in 2014. This gives HDF the ability to construct the milking parlor, equipment shed and calf barns. However, we have pledged to hold off on construction until the completion of our Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  As such, we have requested an extension for completion of our NPDES Stormwater Construction permit application because it is not needed at this time while our team works on the EIS.

Who is funding Hawaii Dairy Farms?

Hawaii Dairy Farms is funded through a $17.5+ million investment from Ulupono Initiative, an impact investment firm whose mission is to increase Hawaii's local food production, renewable energy use, and better management of waste.

How many jobs will Hawaii Dairy Farms create?

Hawaii Dairy Farms will create 36 direct and indirect full-time jobs during construction.  With a herd of up to 699 cows, approximately 11 direct and indirect full-time equivalent jobs would be sustained on Kauai, including 5 farm jobs and about 6 indirect jobs.  We will begin the hiring process following acceptance of our EIS. If you are interested in applying, please email us at info@hawaiidairyfarms.com.

What kind of cows will be on the farm?

We have designed the farm for Kiwi cross cows, which are a cross breed of Friesian-Holstein and Jersey milking cows. They are smaller in stature, bred to produce milk from grass, and their milk has a higher butterfat content, which allows for a wide variety of added-value dairy products like yogurt and cheese. Due to delays in the permitting and approvals process, we sold our initial herd and will be looking to purchase a new herd when the EIS is completed. There are no dairy cows on the HDF property at this time.

Will the cows have to go through quarantine?

Yes, the cows will arrive by boat and stay in quarantine for 60 days at Farias Cattle Company. The cows will be inspected and health tested by veterinarians from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s Animal Disease Control Branch before being transferred to the farm.

Will the calves and bulls be housed on the dairy site?

Initially after being born, the calves will be kept in nursery pens on the farm for the first 90 days or until they reach 165 pounds to monitor their health and growth.  They will then be transferred offsite to a partner ranch that will care for the calves until they are the right age to return as milking cows to replace dry cows. Bull calves will be transferred offsite to local ranchers for growing and finishing as grass-fed beef. 

What kind of grass will be used on the farm?

Kikuyu grass will be the main grass used for the pasture. The Kikuyu grass has been sourced from Kauai, as well as seeds from the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture & Human Resources (CTAHR). This type of grass was selected as the most productive and nutritious for the rotational grazing model based on grass trials.

Will grass be the only feed for the cows?

No, the cows’ diet will be supplemented with feed during the milking process. The diet will be about 70 percent grass and 30 percent grain and vitamins, though it will be adjusted as required for the health of the cows and the quality of the milk. The grain will be a mix of oats, wheat midds and other material that provide starch to complement the grass and added nutrients to aid in the cows’ health and milk production. Local feed options are being sought, but initial feed shipments will come from the U.S. mainland.

Will the dairy smell?

Pasture-based dairies are much cleaner than a traditional feedlot model because cows are grazing on pasture, so smell is minimal. Odor conditions will be limited within the farm area and immediate vicinity. A worst case scenario model shows the odor from up to 699 dairy cows will extend no more than 1,670 feet south of the farm's southern boundary. The odor will not reach resort or residential communities.

However, Hawaii Dairy Farms takes the community’s concerns very seriously. To control effluent pond odor, we will keep the ponds aerated on a consistent schedule. In addition, a windbreak/shelterbelt, which utilizes rows of trees, will be planted along the prevailing wind pattern of the effluent ponds to help mitigate any odor from traveling off the farm.

How will flies be controlled?

Flies are a health concern and their nuisance inhibits productivity on a dairy farm. Hawaii Dairy Farms will manage flies using an integrated pest management plan. Primary control will be to eliminate the breeding sites for flies by regular removal of decaying organic material. Additionally, repellants, dry baits and larval inhibitors will minimize adult fly populations to ensure flies don’t disturb our neighbors, our cows or our employees.

What is the milking process and how long does it take?

Cows will be milked two times a day. The milking parlor will house a 60-stall rotary platform that gently turns, providing a smooth entry and exit for the cows. A worker places milking machines on the udders when the cow enters the stall. The cows are fed grain and vitamins from a trough while being milked to help supplement their diet. Milk is collected and processed through a monitoring system that tracks milk quality and cow health. The machine comes off automatically when no milk flow is detected. The actual milking process takes about 8-10 minutes. The cows will be away from the pasture for approximately one hour per milking cycle.

Where does the milk go after the milking process is done?

Milk will be stored on site in refrigerated tanks until it is offloaded to a tanker truck for transport to processing offsite. We anticipate transport to be one time per day Tuesday through Friday and three times on Monday to pick up the weekend's milk supply.

Will Hawaii Dairy Farms process the milk?

No, we will sell the milk to a processor for pasturization and packaging. Our goal is to increase local milk production while keeping costs comparable to current market prices. Hawaii Dairy Farms’ milk will be distributed statewide. Producing milk locally and shipping it between islands helps reduce our overall carbon footprint from imports.  No milk will be shipped out of state.

Will the dairy use antibiotics to treat cows or to prevent infections?

Yes, we will use Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved antibiotics from time to time to ensure our cows are healthy and being treated humanely.  Antibiotics will only be used if prescribed by a licensed veterinarian for treatment of a specific illness. Withholding guidelines that prohibit meat or milk from treated cows will be strictly adhered to avoiding any antibiotic adulteration of our milk. Additionally we will routinely conduct a laboratory test on all of our milk for any traces of antibiotic residue.

Will the dairy use bovine growth hormone or rBST?

Hawaii Dairy Farms will not inject any of its cows with rBST or rBGH.

Will the dairy be certified organic? If no, why not?

Hawaii Dairy Farms is not applying for organic certification under the standards of the National Organic Protocol. The NOP requires aggressive tillage to control weeds and voluntary grasses in the pastures leading to excessive soil erosion from wind and rain. Additionally, the standard of health care for our cows and calves would be hampered without the discretionary use of antibiotics in situations of serious illness or contagious disease outbreaks. Hawaii Dairy Farms prefers to be better stewards of the land and husbands of our animals than the NOP will permit.

Will Hawaii Dairy Farms sell raw milk?

No. Hawaii Dairy Farms’ milk will be stored and transported to the processor for pasteurization in accordance with FDA requirements.

How will Hawaii Dairy Farms manage the waste created by the cows?

Hawaii Dairy Farms will be a closed-loop dairy, which means that all of the waste created by the animals will be collected and used on the farm as fertilizer to maintain the grass. Typically, cows generate 8-10 percent of their waste as they near the milking parlor or while they are in the milking process. All waste will be washed out of the parlor into a nearby two-pond effluent system, which will serve as holding ponds for the material to be recycled as nutrient rich irrigation. Because the cows will be rotating through the paddocks frequently, there will be even distribution of waste throughout the pasture. Effluent irrigation using a weak dilution of effluent mixed with water will be applied as supplemental fertilizer when pasture sensors indicate a need for additional nutrients. Technology will monitor water quality, effluent application and placement, as well as cow outputs to ensure the highest level of environmental quality.  Effluent will only be applied when pastures need nutrients and weather conditions permit.

Where can I get a copy of your draft Waste Management plan?

You can download a PDF copy of our draft plan here.

Are the effluent ponds safe?

Yes. The effluent ponds have been designed using a clay base, as well as a hard, thick plastic liner to contain the effluent and protect from any leaks. Sensors are included to monitor flow rates and liner integrity. The liner is guaranteed for up to 20 years and will be checked regularly for safety. The ponds’ capacity was expanded to exceed regulatory compliance, which is based on a 25-year, 24-hour storm event plus the average rainfall in the valley for the longest continuous rain event.

With no more than 699 milking cows in our committed herd size, the effluent pond capacity goes far beyond the regulatory requirement and provides nearly double the volume required.  There has been no storm event that would exceed the capacity of the effluent ponds since rainfall has been recorded in Mahaulepu Valley.

How and when will the pasture be irrigated?

The farm manager will closely monitor the operations and performance of the farm using computerized technology. The pasture will be irrigated using a mixture of two center pivot irrigators, as well as drip and gun irrigation in other areas. Irrigation will only be utilized when sensors indicate the pasture needs additional moisture or fertilization. Effluent will be recycled as fertilizer on pasture to provide much needed nutrients to the grass to grow. The pivots use a GPS system that will automatically turn off when near water troughs, drainage ditches, Haraguchi Taro Farm, or any other area that must remain free of effluent. The effluent irrigation and fertilizer protocols are matched to the individual soil types of each paddock, along with the active management of the rotation schedule.  Irrigation will only be applied when weather conditions permit.

How will you keep effluent from contaminating drainage ditches and groundwater?

Raceways will serve as pathways for the cows to move to and from the milking parlor and the pastures. These raceways will be fenced and include expanded 35-foot setbacks on each side that will ensure cows do not stray into any drainage ditches.

In addition, all ditches will be lined with a vegetative buffer that will help manage the ecology of the farm and limit erosion. Irrigation pivots will be turned off near all open water sources. 

Periodic water quality monitoring will be employed to assess and maintain the effectiveness of irrigation, nutrient management and conservation practices. 

Will Haraguchi Taro Farm be moving?

No, Haraguchi Taro Farm will stay in place. Hawaii Dairy Farms knows that the valley is a great place to grow taro, so our team wanted to make sure it helped maintain the Haraguchi’s existing operation. In addition, Hawaii Dairy Farms is installing new fencing around and a separate water line to the taro farm so that it can control its own water needs. Haraguchi Taro Farm also has room for expansion on site, if desired.

Where will the water come from for operations?

Irrigation water will come from Waita Reservoir. There is also an existing well on site that will provide potable water for the cows to drink. Water storage tanks will allow for consistent distribution of water to the watering troughs in each pasture. Improvements are being made to the water system to better supply the needs of the farm and its immediate neighbors. It is anticipated that the cows will need approximately 50,000 gallons per day for drinking water.

Who are you working with to design the farm?

The design team includes Group 70 International, Red Barn Consulting, Hawaii Dairy Services, Dairy SolutioNZ, and many local partners.

Who do I talk to if I want more information about the dairy?

Please send your inquiry to info@hawaiidairyfarms.com and someone will be in touch as soon as possible.

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