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Photos represent similar grass-fed grazing models in New Zealand

April 15, 2014

Dairy farm proposal deserves a chance

From the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

So much of what we eat and drink in Hawaii is shipped in from somewhere else that our elected and community leaders have stated a priority to increase agricultural production in the islands, a philosophy that has garnered the enthusiastic assent of everyone from schoolchildren, to restaurant chefs to business executives throughout the islands.

Now is the time to put the walk to that talk, as forces on Kauai coalesce against Hawai‘i Dairy Farms, which would be the state's first grass-fed dairy operation and effectively double milk production in the state. Backed by eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar's Ulupono Initiative, the dairy has been open with the community about its plans, has taken steps to mitigate odor and other concerns, and is well more than two miles away from a major resort that is among those lodging pre-emptive complaints.

This project deserves to proceed under the regular permitting process, which includes adhering to county, state and federal regulations. Agricultural operations, whether they be vegetable or fruit farms, milk dairies or cattle ranches, should not be demonized as unwelcome neighbors before they've even had a chance to get off the ground. Hawaii will never meet its food-production sustainability goals if such attitudes persist.

The 582-acre dairy farm being developed in Mahaulepu Valley on Kauai is on former sugar cane land leased from Grove Farm. If permit approvals move along, the dairy hopes to begin milk production next year, grazing about 1,800 dairy cows on pastureland mauka of Poipu, one of Kauai's prime oceanfront resort districts.

The dairy would be the first commercial use of designated Important Agricultural Lands on Kauai for local food production, according to the company. It intends to produce 3.7 million gallons of milk annually, and to eventually make cheese, yogurt, ice cream and other dairy products.

This welcome resurgence of a once-common industry — local dairies produced virtually all the milk consumed in Hawaii prior to 1984 — is threatened, however, by the opposition of powerful and influential tourism interests, including the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa, which is about 2.5 miles away from the dairy site, and environmental groups such as the Surf-rider Foundation and the Sierra Club.

Opponents contend that the dairy will be smelly and noisy, turning off tourists, and that it is not a sustainable practice to ship the milk for bottling on Oahu, as the dairy will have to do.

By its very design as a grass-fed, zero-discharge facility, this enterprise will be much cleaner than conventional feedlot dairies. Cow manure will be collected, diluted with water and stored in two effluent ponds on the property for use as fertilizer for the pastureland. The dairy insists that any odor will be minimal, contained to within about 50 feet of the source.

Still, given the community outcry in some quarters, the dairy should consider all reasonable mitigation efforts, including covering the effluent ponds if that is feasible.

Over time, Hawai‘i Dairy Farms could end up becoming a tourist attraction in its own right, as dairies and cheese factories in the Pacific Northwest have been. More important, though, this proposed dairy furthers the state's food sustainability goals. Prime agricultural land must be used for its intended purpose.

We're confident that tourists, environmentalists and farmers can find a way to co-exist.

Read the full article in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser here.

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