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Biosecurity Rules Crack Isle’s Last Egg Farm

07 March 2007

MAKAWAO - Sometime late this month, Maui’s last egg farm will close. That will leave only Hawaiian Fresh Egg Farm in Kamuela on the Big Island and one or two egg farms on Oahu.

Nelson Okumura, vice president of Maui Fresh Eggs, says rapidly tightening biosecurity requirements were the last straw.

"A lot of clients are requiring USDA grading," says Okumura. Maui Fresh Eggs are state-inspected. To hire a federal inspector for U.S. Department of Agriculture grading would have cost $5,000 a month.

Food safety issues are putting pressure on small producers of all sorts, but for Hawaii egg and dairy farmers the cost of high-protein feed also is a perennial problem.

The cost of importing feed grains from the Mainland adds more than $100 a ton to the expense. That makes it hard to compete with eggs or milk from giant farms in California, whose products are older but cheaper.

High production costs also make it expensive to grow feed grains here, and that expense has driven the only commercial corn farm in the islands, on Oahu, to quit planting. Co-owner Steve Riford of Maui says it lost all its customers when the last Oahu dairies shut down. (Seed corn farms remain successful, but they have a different cost structure, scale of operation and market.)

Now the only fresh milk in the state comes from the Big Island and the only fresh eggs from Oahu and Big Island, although Hawaiian Fresh does not sell outside the Big Island.

David Davenport, owner of Hawaiian Fresh Egg Farm, says food security issues are not yet pressing for him, but price increases are.

"Pretty soon there are not going to be any egg producers," says Okumura. Riford says that during the next dock strike, Hawaii consumers will have to get along without eggs or milk.

Maui Fresh Eggs, which is a subsidiary of VIP Foodservice, operates on leased land and did not have the option of expanding. Since it began out in the country on Makani Road more than four decades ago, it has acquired residential neighbors on two sides and an intermediate school nearby.

"I’m sure the neighbors will be happy," says Okumura. VIP, the state’s largest food distributor, bought the business 21 years ago. It is the only food item that VIP produces itself.

Maui Fresh Eggs, which has four employees, will continue to be available until well into April. The "fresh egg of commerce" has a shelf life of several weeks.

Lawsuits, food poisoning scares and worries about terrorist attacks on America’s food have resulted in more and more rigorous requirements on producers.

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Source: The Maui News





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