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Photos represent similar grass-fed grazing models in New Zealand

July 25, 2016

Dairy’s pasture-based model protects environment

Guest column by Amy Hennessey, Communications Director of Ulupono Initiative, in The Garden Island

Just one generation ago, Hawaii produced all of its milk at thriving dairies throughout the state. In the past 30 years nearly all of these dairies have closed and Hawaii now relies on imports for 90 percent of its milk supply.

Hawaii Dairy Farms is committed to creating a model for sustainable agriculture on designated Important Agricultural Lands, as well as increasing Hawaii’s food security by producing fresh milk for local families.

Following more than 15 months of technical work performed by experts recognized in their respective fields, we voluntarily prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) because we believe it is the right thing to do. The findings are encouraging, demonstrating that Hawaii Dairy Farms will not negatively impact the environment or community. We’re coming to the end of the 45-day comment period that will help further strengthen this important disclosure document. Comments can be made to hdf@group70int.com through Monday.

Unfortunately, a small group of self-interested individuals continues to spread misinformation and fear, misrepresenting the facts about our project, and even personally attacking our farm manager and our consultants. It is important to set the record straight.

We recognize that a pasture-based, rotational-grazing model is new for Hawaii, and therefore significant study is necessary to get it right. We understood that our initial plan from 2013 would evolve as we gained deeper knowledge of the farm site and its growing conditions.

We sought input on our plans from the Department of Health, as well as the County of Kauai and the community. While preparing the Draft EIS, we learned a lot that has led us to make significant improvements to the plan from the initial project proposal. We enhanced the New Zealand model with U.S. standards and best management practices to create a world-class design.

Our farm will use grass as a natural filter to capture nutrients from the manure and keep them on the farm as rich fertilizer to grow the grass and improve soil quality. Our cows will graze in groups that strategically rotate over thirsty grassland. Nutrients are quickly absorbed thanks to a healthy ecosystem of microbes and dung beetles, which break down the manure within one to three days.

This topic was studied and covered extensively in the Draft EIS, which found that the farm will retain nearly 98 percent of these nutrients in the pasture. In addition, our expert water consultant conducted four different tests to establish and confirm that the aquifer that provides drinking water will not be impacted by our farm operations.

Additional prevention measures include a 1,000-foot buffer from the Koloa F drinking water well, 35-foot-wide vegetation buffers fenced on both sides of drainage ditches, no fertilizer applied within 50 feet of drainage ditches or before rainstorms, and ongoing monitoring of surface and coastal waters. Our irrigation system uses GPS technology, so we can precisely apply nutrients on the pasture to protect waterways and water troughs.

Over the long term, active management of the dairy will reduce soil erosion and improve surface water quality in the area’s agricultural ditches, including Waiopili Ditch.

Also, the Draft EIS shows home values will not be negatively affected because no noticeable odors, noise, dust or other nuisance impacts from the pasture- based dairy will reach resort and residential areas, which are at least a mile or more away from the site.

Comparing our pasture-based dairy approach to so-called “industrial feedlot dairies” is like comparing pineapples to mangoes. They are completely different models.

Our committed herd size will have no more than 699 mature dairy cows. Young heifers will arrive on Kauai spaced out in groups until the full herd has arrived. The cows will not be bred until they have gone through quarantine, grown to the ideal weight, and acclimated to island life.

Breeding heifers over time allows the farm to grow slowly and ensures safe care and handling of the dairy cows and their calves. We believe that the time devoted to ensure farm operations begin smoothly is essential for the health of the cows, the dairy and the surrounding environment.

After birth, calves will stay on the farm for about 90 days before being transferred offsite to local ranches where they will grow into milking cows and eventually rotate into the herd.

With the committed herd size of 699 milking cows, Hawaii Dairy Farms will produce 1.2 million gallons of milk per year, which is enough to meet the needs of approximately 60,000 people, or nearly the entire population of Kauai. The milk will be distributed statewide as part of our commitment to providing fresh, nutritious milk for Hawaii’s families.

As the Draft EIS shows, we have applied the input from the regulators and the community. We are more confident than ever that Hawaii Dairy Farms is an excellent project that will benefit the community, contribute to greater self-sufficiency for Hawaii, and be something Kauai can be proud to have in its back yard.

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