Hawaii -- Plans to build a local feed mill to support Hawaii's farming industry are looking more promising as the rising cost of feed continues to take its toll on the state's agricultural and aquaculture sectors.
A project of the Oceanic Institute that dates back to 1995, the feed mill has received renewed attention since Anthony Ostrowski began his tenure in April 2009 as president of the nonprofit research facility at Makapuu.
"I'm pushing it very hard right now," Ostrowski told PBN.
The institute has attracted all but $450,000 of the $4 million needed to build the feed mill. Funding sources have included the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state and a $350,000 contribution from the Oceanic Institute. The $450,000 in remaining funds needs to be raised by the end of 2013, when the state's commitment to funding expires. The feed mill, to be located on the Big Island at the University of Hawaii Hilo's Panaewa farm, would serve as a pilot research facility but would produce enough feed to supply commercial farming operations, which Ostrowski says is important for testing the feed.
"What it is designed to do is to produce commercial quantities of feed for large-scale, on-farm testing, and importantly under real-life feed-processing conditions," he said.
The hope is that the research facility will lead to a full-scale commercial feed mill. "If Hawaii doesn't have a local feed mill, we will wind up importing 100 percent of our animal products," Ostrowski said, noting that currently 80 percent of Hawaii's agricultural products are imported and that the state's emergency supply of food lasts only 11 days.
The mill would serve as a research facility for feed for a variety of aquatic and terrestrial animals. Scientists would look at a number of sources for the feed, including co-products from the biofuels industry, such as algae protein, animal waste products that are currently discarded in landfills, and new agricultural products that farmers can grow specifically for the feed mill.
If the pilot eventually leads to a commercial-scale facility, it could be a major relief for local farmers.
Feed costs in Hawaii have increased 38 percent since 2007, according to Jeffrey Peterson, manager of Land O'Lakes Purina Feeds, the largest seller of animal livestock feeds in Hawaii. He attributes the spike to corn ethanol production and rising global demand for corn, which has resulted in lower corn inventories.
Rising oil prices also have added to the costs of shipping the feed. At the beginning of May, Matson Navigation Co. and Horizon Lines Inc., the major shipping companies in Hawaii, will raise their fuel surcharges to 43.5 percent — double what they were at the start of this year.
This combination of factors has led to a contraction in the agriculture sector and a stifling of the aquaculture industry during the past decade.
"The feed prices now have just gone through the roof," said Roy Kaneshiro, owner of K. K. Poultry in Waimanalo.
Due to rising feed costs, as well as the closing of the chicken processing plant that allowed for the disposal of the livestock, Kaneshiro said he has scaled back his farm from about 70,000 chickens five years ago to about 12,000 today.
According to Peterson, there were 14 dairy farms and 17 poultry operations in Hawaii in 1999. Today, there are only two dairy farms and four poultry farms.
While Hawaii's aquaculture industry has grown during the past few years, much of what is produced is sold abroad to companies that breed the seafood for commercial consumption in locations where feed and operating expenses are lower. It then is imported back into Hawaii. Also, the state's commercial fishermen sell much of their catch to markets where they can attain higher prices. Eighty-five percent of the seafood produced in Hawaii is exported, while 86 percent of the seafood that is consumed in Hawaii is imported, according to the Oceanic Institute.