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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 28, 2007

University of Hawaii sells all its cows

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

The University of Hawai'i is selling its last 20 dairy cows as it phases out operations at the 130-acre Waialee Livestock Research Farm on the North Shore.

Ultimately, UH plans to move the livestock research facility to a former Meadow Gold dairy operation in Waimanalo, though there's no timetable for such a move, said C.Y. Hu, associate dean and associate director for research at the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

The pending livestock sale to Pacific Dairy was necessitated by animal safety concerns at the facility, which is in disrepair, and because of the facility's remote location. The cows, which were bred to produce milk in Hawai'i's warm climate, have not been used for breeding or research purposes for several years because of the poor condition of concrete holding pens, Hu said.

The sale price was not available.

The university's sale follows a near collapse in Hawai'i's dairy industry after years of declining production amid rising feed, shipping and land costs, urban encroachment, environmental regulations and stagnant sales. As recently as 1999, there were five dairies on O'ahu and five on the Big Island. Now Pacific Dairy is O'ahu's only dairy and the Big Island has just three dairies.

"If we could keep (the cows), it would be great," Hu said. "If we had the facility in Wai'anae, we would not be selling these animals."

About 45 sheep, which are contained on pasture land, will remain at the North Shore research farm until the university moves to the Waimanalo dairy, which is on state land. That move has been planned for at least six years, but it's unclear when an agreement with the Department of Land and Natural Resources will allow such a move, Hu said. The university still can conduct cow research in partnership with private dairies.

UH's sale of livestock comes amid a state effort to stabilize Hawai'i's livestock industry, which also has experienced losses in poultry, pork and egg operations. State lawmakers this year created a $3 million-a-year, two-year program aimed at subsidizing feed costs for livestock producers. Those subsidies are allowing Pacific Dairy, which had planned to close this summer, to remain in operation, said Monique Van Der Stroom, manager for Pacific Dairy.

The dairy plans to breed the cows to increase its 400 head herd.

Ultimately, Pacific Dairy will need to find another home on O'ahu or the Big Island that will allow for pasture feeding of cattle, which could further cut feed costs, Van Der Stroom said.

The 42-acre Wai'anae Valley property where the dairy is located is for sale. A total of three parcels, including a 4,800-square-foot home built by dairyman Robert Toledo, are listed for $4.9 million.

Jeri Kahana, commodities branch manager for the state Department of Agriculture, hopes UH will someday restart its dairy research farm. She said she wasn't surprised by the UH sale, given the industry's problems.

In June, milk production plunged 43 percent from June 2006 to 2.8 million pounds, according to the National Agricultural Research Service. Cumulative milk production for the first half of 2007 totaled 21.7 million pounds, down 28 percent from the same period in 2006.

"If it were a thriving industry (UH) might not be doing this. But for the last five years, the trend (in milk production) has been down," Kahana said. "They have to adjust their resources and focus on something more worthwhile.

"If somehow the dairy industry slump reverses, they'll consider (resuming dairy operations) I'm sure."

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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