‘New Zealand model’ isn’t Mahaulepu

I was born and raised on a New Zealand dairy farm in the Waikato area of the North Island. For the final few years on the property, I managed the total operation.

I am somewhat confused by the oft-quoted statement, “the New Zealand model,” in regards to the proposed Hawaii Dairy Farm operation at Mahaulepu. Another well-known quotation is “the devil is in the details,” and there seems from press releases to be a dearth of details I would consider relevant. I am not accusing the developer of ignorance but it appears they are convinced the residents of Poipu and Koloa have it in abundance.

New Zealand is approximately 1,000 miles long and there is no doubt that it is possible to have a “town supply” dairy farm supplying fresh milk from one end of New Zealand to the other — just as it is anywhere in the world, given enough money. However, a successful grass-fed dairy herd requires frequent light rain, well-drained fertile soil and adequate sun without great extremes of temperature. There are only two main areas in New Zealand that qualify and these are the Waikato area around the city of Hamilton and the Taranaki area around the city of New Plymouth. These two areas are probably the most intense grass-fed dairy areas in the world.

Forty years ago we milked a total of approximately 200 cows plus an average “dry stock” level of 60 heifers and selected calves — all on 163 acres. No stock feed of any type was imported onto this Waikato farm and I’m told these figures have improved since then. However, that climate is ideal for growing nutrient-rich grass — parti-cularly clovers which replenish the nitrogen in the soil. These are also grasses that will not grow adequately in a tropical climate. The area is also well away from salt breezes which can burn these grasses, and of course the farm consisted of gently rolling, well-drained soil.

To be successful, the cows need to be highly efficient at converting grass to milk and modern cows are a product of many decades of scientific selective breeding largely employing artificial insemination. All this is in an environment, that has, due to the number of livestock involved, veterinary, research and other support of all types, second to none in the world.

So far, I see almost no parallels between New Zealand and the heavy, poorly drained clay soils close to the sea at Mahaulepu.

As stated, high-producing dairy cows are very efficient at converting grass to milk. Much grass and many gallons of water are daily consumed at one end and waste in the form of manure and urine is ejected at the other. Twice a day, many quarts of high-quality milk are available at the cow’s udder.

To get grass into the cows, three methods can be employed, depending on the weather.

A. In fine weather, the cows walk to and from the milking facility to the grass, where it is processed through the cow.

B. If there is a danger of causing too much mud, the grass can be harvested with a forage harvester and brought to the cows.

C. A combination of both A and B.

All this grass consumed, unfortunately, also transfers fertility from the soil, and means must be employed to return as much manure as possible to the fields.

Given the density of livestock on what is potentially a very muddy area during long wet spells, I would presume there will be adequate concrete “hard standing areas,” as well as this obvious requirement around the milking facility. As has been pointed out from many previous letters, there will be a large accumulation of manure and urine.

In the A option, 80 percent will be deposited on each field. There will still need to be a method to collect and regularly spread the balance accumulated around the milking facility. In the B option, this operation becomes a major exercise. And the C option, of course, would be something in between.

Any such intensive dairy operation requires rotational grazing — that is where the cows are moved on a daily basis from one field to the next to allow grass to recover and be ready for the next cycle. If cows are allowed to create too much mud while in the field during very wet weather in such poor draining clay soils, grass will be slower to recuperate. After each grazing the deposited manure must also be spread (by tractor and chain harrows) so that accumulated deposits are not too deep for grass to grow through or the grass will die.

Given the money available, the initial proposed stocking rate should be feasible but as I have tried to explain above, the area is far from ideal. Additional stocking rates will, of course, only exacerbate the problems.

As a permanent resident of Poipu adjacent to the Grand Hyatt, I have major concerns.

1. Those of us who have been brought up around livestock are used to animal smells. Those whose lifestyles subject them to perhaps only vehicle exhaust fumes at worst and the scents of flowers and trees at best, will most likely find any smells emanating from the farm highly objectionable. To say there will be no smells, irrespective of wind direction, is delusional.

2. If the cow manure is not spread while fresh, the smell becomes much more pronounced and certainly objectionable to even those with less acute olfactory senses.

3. In the 25 years I have resided in the area, we have experienced heavy periods of rain at times that would almost certainly, despite all precautions, cause discharge of unacceptable pollutants into the ocean.

4. Items 1, 2 and 3 will also certainly impact my property values and those of my neighbors as well as detrimentally affecting the tourist industry of the area which is, of course, one of the primary engines of Kauai’s economy.


David Collison is a resident of Poipu.


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