Kauai’s bovine battle continues

Hawaii Dairy Farms says its planned operation in Maha’ulepu Valley will provide a model for sustainable agriculture and help protect the environment. Those in opposition of the dairy aren’t jumping on board.

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I don’t have photos of the dairy site, but you can find those at thegardenisland.com, or on HDF’s website. A Kauai sunset is great to look at, though.

HDF released a 2,600-page draft Environmental Impact Statement on June 8.

Bridget Hammerquist, Friends of Maha’ulepu, the organization against the dairy, said her concerns haven’t changed with the release of the DEIS.

She cited water contamination, flies, odor, and harm to the reefs as possible problems.

Kauai County approved HDF’s $7 million building permit in November 2014, without triggering the requirement for a DEIS. Hawaii Dairy Farms decided to go through the DEIS process to ease any community fears about the dairy, said HDF spokeswoman Amy Hennessey.

“We promised the community of Kauai that we would prepare a DEIS for Hawaii Diary Farms, not because we have to, but because it is the right thing to do to help answer community questions,” Hennessey said. “We’re proud of this product and its potential to help our islands be more food secure in a financially and environmentally sustainable way.”

Hammerquist said the DEIS isn’t up to par in many ways. She said first and foremost, Friends of Mahaulepu is concerned about who conducted the DEIS.

“The draft EIS was extensively prepared by Group 70 International, the very firm that is credited with developing HDF’s waste management plan,” Hammerquist said. “How could anybody conclude that an independent EIS has been conducted if prepared by the same company who prepared HDF’s dairy plan?”

HDF is funded by the social investment firm Ulupono Initiative, owned by eBay founder and billionaire Pierre Omidyar. It’s located on agricultural lands in Maha’ulepu leased from Grove Farm, northeast of Poipu and CJM Stables.

The Draft EIS shows analysis for both the committed herd size of up to 699 mature milking

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The Old Koloa Sugar Mill isn’t operating anymore, but it is located within a few miles of the dairy site.

cows, as well as the full potential of the farm of up to 2,000 mature milking cows.

The daily would be on 557 acres. It is expected to produce roughly 1.5 million gallons of fresh milk per year, create 11 full-time jobs, and provide 36 construction jobs, as well as opportunities for local suppliers for supporting farm operations.

The milk produced on the dairy will be shipped to Honolulu and Hilo, the state’s only dairy processing facilities. The company has a pending contract with Meadow Gold for processing and packaging on Oahu for statewide distribution.

Top DEIS findings

The top findings of the DEIS state the dairy will improve soil quality and protect water resources, provide a jolt to the economy, will not affect culturally significant resources, won’t negatively impact home values and resort areas, and treat cows with a high standard of care.

Hammerquist maintains the DEIS is obscure, lacks specifics and leaves much to be desired.

She points to discrepancies in the soil and water quality statements and alleges that there really isn’t a plan for controlling runoff.

“The bottom line is HDF has no way to contain the manure or to keep it from running into the ocean,” Hammerquist said.

In the DEIS, HDF did elect to discontinue the use of the term “zero discharge,” acknowledging the amount of nutrients anticipated from the proposed dairy operations “could pass through to ground and surface waters.”

Hennessey said there are measures in place to keep too much runoff from escaping, and she said the cows aren’t even anticipated to produce enough manure to fertilize the grass growing on the site. They’re going to be putting additional fertilizers on their land.

She said HDF is growing thick thatches of pasture grass, “essentially an organic net,” that quickly absorbs manure from the cows, and that manure will break down in a maximum of three days “thanks to a healthy ecosystem of microbes and dung beetles.”

She also said the thick ground cover grass will eliminate soil erosion from HDF.

The DEIS outlines other efforts to minimize runoff from the diary, including fenced, 35-foot wide vegetation buffers on either side of the drainage ditches, no application of diluted manure within 50 feet of the ditches, and ongoing monitoring of surface and coastal waters.

Hennessey said, at its highest, the potential discharge is estimated at 10,000 pounds of nitrogen and 900 pounds of phosphorus annually, with the committed herd size of 699 dairy cows.

They say they’ll treat them better than feedlot dairies

Hammerquist said members of the Friends of Mahaulepu also have concerns about how the cows will be treated.

“Other than the milking parlor, there are no trees or shelters for the cows. It gets very hot at Mahaulepu in the summer, and they’ll be crowded,” Hammerquist said. “It’s hard to accept that a plan with no shelter for their cows, other than at milking, is a good living condition.”

Hennessey said there will be 119 paddocks that average three to five acres in size, spread over 469 acres of active pasture. That equates to just over one cow per acre starting out. She also said the 22 hours of pasture-based foraging, covered or out in the open, will minimize stress for the cows, which will be managed in social groups, known as “mobs” of 105-115 cows.

“The pasture-based model allows cows to roam freely, lie down and rest, which are critical to their health and digestion cycle,” Hennessey said. “Walkway surfaces will be topped with crushed limestone to provide a comfortable path under their hooves.”

The plan for the calves is to house them in a shed or pasture until they reach 165 pounds, or at about three months old, at which time they’ll be transferred to an off-site calf raising facility. She said she expects those calves will go to local ranches until they’re ready to come back as milking cows.

Next steps for the DEIS

Now that the DEIS has been published, there is an open, 45-day comment period. All comments must be submitted in writing to HDF@Group70int.com, or mailed either to Group 70 International or DOH in order to be included in the formal review process.

Directions for comment and mailing addresses, as well as a full copy of the DEIS, are available at hawaiidairyfarms.com. Hard copies of the DEIS have been sent to all the public libraries in Kauai as well. The comment period will end July 25.

Written for The Garden Island Newspaper, published June 8, 2016. Photos taken by Jessica Else. 

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