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Managing manure

MAHAULEPU — A shift in the basic model for the proposed 577-acre dairy farm near Mahaulepu is only one of the changes in the updated waste management plan.

But, it’s one of the changes being challenged by opponents of the dairy, who are also questioning the timing of the update — delivered to the Department of Health just days before the release of Hawaii Dairy Farm’s draft environmental impact statement.

“Before now, HDF claimed the New Zealand model was successful and the best footprint for the design and operation of their dairy plan,” said Bridget Hammerquist, president of Friends of Mahaulepu, the main entity opposing the dairy. “Now with the stroke of a pen, it’s been abandoned without any real explanation.”

Amy Hennessey, spokeswoman for HDF, said the switch to the new model, the Cornell Model, doesn’t change the heart of the proposition and simply brings that same New Zealand model under U.S. standards.

“Essentially, it’s taking the rotational grazing model and then applying U.S. regulatory standards,” Hennessey said. “When I hear people saying we’ve moved away from the model, that’s simply not true.”

The waste management plan still focuses on a herd size of 699 mature cows, and reduces the number of calves on site from 174 to 150. The size of each mature cow has decreased 210 pounds because of the switch in models.

Because of the cow size reduction, the anticipated manure production has decreased from 143 pounds per day to just over 90 pounds per day. The calves are expected to add 19 pounds of manure per day to the grand total.

“With updated forage testing incorporated into the Cornell Model, manure production values have been updated,” the plan says.

It reflects a smaller grazing area — 469 acres versus 577 acres, and estimates 699 mature cows will produce only one third of the nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorous — needed for “healthy pasture activity” according to the plan.

Hennessey said the remainder of the nutrients needed would be added to the soil with various fertilizers.

“The irony of the conversation about how much manure is going to be generated is that there’s not going to be enough,” Hennessey said.

While the current waste management plan focuses on 699 cows, the potential herd size could be 2,000 mature cows. Additional permitting would have to be secured to grow the dairy.

The plan doesn’t outline the amount of nutrients 2,000 cows would provide to the pasturelands, though Hennessey said the total manure load would be somewhere around 181,600 pounds per day.

“The important thing to remember is that the manure that’s excreted is mostly liquid because grass has a lot of water,” Hennessey said. “The actual dry matter in that equation is fairly small and the rest is liquid nutrients absorbed by the grass.”

She said the plan is to establish the dairy at 699 cows and grow from there, if HDF chooses to grow its herd size.

“If we find the farm, at the most, can carry 1,800 cows — and that’s just an arbitrary number I’m throwing out — than we’ll keep it at 1,800 cows,” Hennessey said. “We’re committed to doing 699 cows and any speculation (on herd growth) isn’t worth talking about, it’s not on the table right now to do that.”

She said HDF included a herd size of up to 2,000 cows in their DEIS so “if we decided to expand to 2,000 cows, we’d allow for the community to be involved in the conversation.”

Hammerquist, however, isn’t convinced HDF would keep its herd size to 699 cows. She’s concerned about the environmental impact of the potential 2,000 adult cows in the valley.

“There are numerous ditches crossing HDF’s site, all of which drain to a fresh water stream that flows across Mahaulepu Beach and empties into the Pacific Ocean,” Hammerquist said. “Any farm animals added to this site will carry additional fecal bacteria to a stream that has been chronically and severely polluted for more than two years.”

In addition to concerns about manure management, Hammerquist said the recently published DEIS outlines the milk will to go Meadow Gold on Oahu or on the Big Island to be processed, packaged “and sold where Meadow Gold sees fit.”

Hennesey confirmed the estimated 1.2 million gallons of milk a year expected to come from the dairy won’t necessarily stay on island, but she said it’d stay within the state.

“This is about providing choice in the marketplace and local milk throughout the state,” Hennessey said.

She said those 1.2 million gallons – enough to provide milk annually to 60,000 people – is estimated to net $51,000 annually for Kauai County and $60,000 annually to the state.

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