(Above) The Governor and HDOA Chair tour the facility with the owners and managers of Big Island Dairy. From left: Steve Whitesides, Brad Duff, Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Derek Whitesides, HDOA Chair Scott Enright, Jason Van Leuven, Riley Smith. CREDIT: Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture
O’OKALA, Hawaii – The Big Island Dairy farm on the Hamakua Coast opened their doors this week, and showed Hawaii’s Governor Neil Abercrombie around the operation.
Big Island Dairy, the largest of two dairies in the State of Hawaii, held an open house on Monday to showcase advances the dairy has accomplished since changing ownership in December 2012. Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii Department of Agriculture Chairperson Scott Enright and about 50 other industry and community members took the opportunity to explore the dairy’s operations first-hand in Ookala.
“Increasing Hawaii’s production of milk is key to improving our state’s food self-sufficiency,” said Gov. Abercrombie, who recently joined Hawaii’s four mayors in committing to at least doubling local food production in Hawaii by 2030. “I am thoroughly impressed by what the Whiteside family has accomplished in two years and encouraged by the promising outlook for increasing local milk production.”
Dairy owners Steven and Derek Whitesides, father and son respectively, have put their 40 years of dairy experience into modernizing the 2,500-acre Big Island Dairy. A state-of-the art milking facility accommodates a herd of nearly 2,000 milking cows, which produce about 6,500 gallons of milk per day.
“We appreciate the state’s Department of Agriculture team walking us through Hawaii’s process,” Steven Whitesides said. “Their efforts to ensure an efficient process facilitated our own success in getting our dairy operation going.”
To help offset the high cost of importing feed, the dairy is currently farming 350 acres of corn and maintains 1,500 acres of pasture. In addition, they farm another 160 acres of corn in a separate location 20 miles away from the dairy and plan to raise other crops such as forage oats, soybeans and alfalfa.
The dairy also uses modern technology and methods to address environmental concerns, such as waste disposal, wastewater and run-off management.
Presently, the only other commercial dairy in the state is Clover Leaf Dairy, also on Hawaii Island and operated by Ed Boteilho, who was also present at the event.Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture, July 30 2014 media release
The dairy happens to be the neighbor of the state’s Ag Department Chairperson, Scott Enright, who is a resident of O’okala. As a former cultivation and irrigation superintendent for Hamakua Sugar Company, Enright knows East Hawaii’s agricultural coast well.
The good publicity is welcome for the dairy, which suffered some public scorn during last year’s debate to ban new genetically engineered crops from the Big Island. Already in use, transgenic papaya and the dairy farm’s 350 acres of GMO corn were grandfathered in, and remain exempt from the ban. During the discussion, many opposed to GMO farming demanded the council “sunset the corn” allowance.
Still, cow feed controversy aside, dairy sets the standard for feeding the local population, according to the 2012 Hawaii County Food Self-Sufficiency Baseline Study. Roughly 95% of all fresh milk consumed on the Island comes from local dairies, the highest percentage of any locally produced food.