Pig farm goes from ‘oink’ to orchids

LIHU’E — A plan to continue growing orchids on leased land that at one time housed one of the most productive pig farms on Kaua’i went before members of the Kaua’i Planning Commission yesterday.

Dr. Michael Woltmon, a veterinarian and founder of Production Improved Genetics (PIG), asked commission members to allow him to continue to keep a subdivision variance to allow him and his family members to continue the agricultural use of the 14-acre site in Puhi.

Woltmon, who attended a public hearing on his proposed project commission members held at the Lihu’e Civic Center Mo’ikeha Building first-floor conference room, said he intends to continue to grow orchids at the site, and to buy the parcel from officials with Grove Farm Company, the largest private land owner in East Kaua’i. The site is located at the makai end of Puhi Road, along Hulemalu Road. He currently leases the property from Grove Farm officials, who secured the subdivision variance that initially allowed PIG founders to begin operations in 1984.

Allan Smith, a vice president with Grove Farm, said the proposal amounts to substituting one agricultural use for another, and “is a housekeeping thing.”

Action by the commissioners on Woltmon’s request is pending.

Woltmon is a veterinarian and orthopedic surgeon and a livestock consultant. His wife is Dr. Joanne Seki Woltmon, who operates Kauai Veterinary Clinic Inc. in the Puhi Industrial Park.

If commissioners give a favorable nod to the project, Woltmon said he plans to grow orchids for local and international markets, and possibly ship out plants on a wholesale basis as well.

Woltmon said the change from a pig to an orchid farm was gradual, but necessary for financial survival.

Woltmon said he operated the piggery until 1992, when Hurricane ‘Iniki struck the island and created nearly $2 billion in damage to government and private properties.

The piggery was damaged, and was rebuilt after ‘Iniki.

Still, the business was stung by national and international market pressures, Woltmon told The Garden Island. “The prices of hogs dropped significantly, and the price of grain rose significantly,” Woltmon said. As a financial option for PIG leaders, “We went to pigs and orchids in 1997,” and because things went well, the business switched over entirely to orchid-growing in 2000, Woltmon said.

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