Lawmakers push for more dairy farms after delivery delay causes shortage

KITV - March 6, 2019
Mika Miyashima

A shortage of milk in stores across the state this week has local lawmakers concerned about the amount of imported food Hawaii relies on and what would happen if those imports stopped coming in.

Hawaii doesn’t have many dairy farms anymore, and now State Senator Mike Gabbard is pushing to change that trend with more farms in Hawaii.

“We have two dairies left on the Big Island. One's closing down so that makes one dairy left for the entire state. We had 88 dairies in 1988. So yeah, it's a huge issue,” explained Gabbard.

Those two dairies, Big Island Diary and Cloverleaf Dairy, will soon be dwindling to one, ]as Big Island Dairy will cease operations at the end of April.

Senator Gabbard says encouraging more dairy farms is among one of his top priorities this legislative session. That concern, becoming even more pressing after a combination of bad weather and mechanical issues on two of Matson's cargo ships caused delivery delays that left store shelves empty.

Senator Gabbard says local food production is necessary for the state's sustainability. This week's shortage was a taste of what could come if Hawaii can’t receive shipments from the mainland.

“When you’re importing 85 to 90% of our food and spending $3-billion a year, and when you have all of this land, we need to be doing this. The bigger issue is, we need more farmers,” said Gabbard.

Gabbard says, it's not just a dairy shortage, but fresh produce as well.

“The reality is the distributors should have at least 10 days backlog of milk in case something like this happens. Shipping problems due to weather, mechanical problems whatever it might be. Should have that 10 day backlog there so that people aren't faced with these shortages," said Gabbard.

Gabbard says the average age of a farmer is 64. He hopes to encourage the younger generation to get into the farming profession.

Governor David Ige also saying in a statement:

"We know that shipping disruptions could have a serious impact on Hawai?i. Our reliance on imported foods is a concern and one of the reasons I've focused on doubling local food production."