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Kauai dairy farm plans to start with fewer cows

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KOLOA, Hawaii (AP) — Plans for a Kauai dairy farm are being modified in response to odor and other environmental concerns.

Hawaii Dairy Farms has modified its application to the state Department of Health, with plans for starting on a smaller scale with 650 to 699 cows, backers announced Friday. A phased approach will demonstrate how a grass-fed dairy is different than the traditional feedlot model, said Kyle Datta, general partner of investor Ulupono Initiative.

This means it's going to take longer to get to a full-scale operation of up to 2,000 cows. Ninety percent of Hawaii's milk comes from the mainland and Ulupono is eager to change that.

"Our commitment is to develop a sustainable farming operation in cooperation with the regulators to produce fresh, local milk for families across the state at prices everyone can afford," Datta said.

Even though the farm was never expected to begin with up to 2,000 cows, Datta said it's important to show the community the farm will practice responsible agriculture. "The community gets experience with that and then you expand further," he said.

The proposed farm design is a zero-discharge approach that includes environmental protections that exceed regulatory compliance, Datta said. Those elements include an effluent pond with increased storage capacity, an additional emergency containment berm and spillway, periodic water quality monitoring and expanded setbacks.

"We know some members of the community are concerned about the cow manure and there have been many issues raised based on fears," he said. "In fact, in pastoral systems, cow manure from dairies and ranches is broken down by biological organisms and turns into nutrients that feed the grass and create rich organic soil."

Meanwhile, a recent lawsuit by the owner of a Kauai resort seeks to stop the dairy. Development should stop until developers prove it won't negatively affect the surrounding environment, said the lawsuit by Kawailoa Development, which owns Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa and the Poipu Bay Golf Course.

Attorneys for the farm are reviewing the lawsuit and will respond soon, Datta said.

Pending permits, construction is expected to begin next year, with milk production beginning in 2016.

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