Dairy EIS proves safety of pasture-based model

Hawaii Dairy Farms recently submitted its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) to the Department of Health for determination of acceptability for the state’s first pasture-based dairy, the result of nearly two years of extensive evaluation and meticulous technical work by experts.

We thank all who were involved in the process, especially members of the Kauai community who took time to offer their thoughtful input.

To get to this point, we have spent four years in dialogue, listening and working with the community and regulators to refine a better, more sustainable model of dairy that is specifically suited for Hawaii.

Early in the process of developing the dairy, we came to understand there were concerns, so we paused and purposely took time, energy and significant resources to have experts fully evaluate the impacts of our proposed dairy model on our selected location in Kauai’s Mahaulepu Valley, which we recognize is a special place with rich agricultural heritage.

It’s important to know that a full environmental review in the form of an Environmental Impact Statement was not required in order to move forward with the dairy and our plans to bring fresh, local milk to local families. However, we prepared it because we thought — and still believe — it to be the right thing to do.

The FEIS filed with regulators last week is the result of that extensive effort.

Despite our good faith efforts to examine the possible impacts of the dairy, a small group of vocal individuals continues to try to place doubt in the minds of Kauai residents. Their criticisms — which are addressed in the FEIS document — are misguided, inaccurate and dangerous for local agriculture and the future of food security in the islands.

We are proud to say that at the committed herd size of 699 mature dairy cows and any future possible expansion, the EIS demonstrates that Hawaii Dairy Farms’ pasture-based model will have no significant impact on the environ- ment, public health, and Kauai’s unique way of life — while helping to improve the quality of life for all residents of the state. We acknowledge that, ultimately, it is up to regulators to make that determination.

Hawaii Dairy Farms is a leading example of regenerative agriculture, using natural elements to restore the soil to its prior fertility. The active management of the pasture will ensure there is minimal runoff, and we have incorporated additional measures into the design of the farm to appropriately safeguard Kauai’s precious water resources.

This farm will help revitalize the state’s flagging dairy industry and make productive use of agricultural lands that have a long history of ranching and farming. At our committed herd size of 699 mature dairy cows, Hawaii Dairy Farms will produce 1.5 million gallons of milk per year, which is enough to meet the needs of approximately 60,000 people, equivalent to the entire population of Kauai.

However, we recognize that this dairy is just one piece of the puzzle. If Hawaii is to meet its ambitious food production goals, we must support local farmers.

Agriculture is the single industry that affects every person living in and visiting the islands — and it is shrinking. People in Hawaii must come together to make sure we can produce enough to feed our families, in a way that is better for the environment and economy. That is exactly what Hawaii Dairy Farms is striving to achieve.

We have always been transparent throughout the process of developing the farm and preparing the EIS, yet misinformation and fear put the dairy in question and exposes the barriers to viable food production in our state. What’s more, the resulting legal challenges threaten the ability of even small farmers and ranchers to continue growing food.

Without broad community support for agriculture throughout the state, our food production goals may prove to be unattainable. However, those goals can become reality if we acknowledge the importance of producing our own food and support those who are trying in good faith to make it happen.

To see the facts for yourself, the FEIS and additional information is posted on the Department of Health’s Environmental Planning Office website at http://health.hawaii.gov/epo. Hard copies will be available for review at the Lihue and Koloa public libraries in the coming weeks.

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Amy Hennessey is communications director for Hawaii Dairy Farms and Ulupono Initiative.

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