As drought worsens, Maui farm struggles to stay afloat

As Drought Worsens, Maui Farm struggles to stay afloat
Published: Aug. 5, 2012 at 9:49 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 6, 2012 at 4:27 PM HST
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KULA, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The severe weather is taking a toll on businesses that rely on rainfall and a Maui company is watching its profits dry up.

Surfing Goat Dairy has been around for over 10-years. It sits on the rolling hills of Kula, and provides about 80-clients throughout the state with its famous goat cheese products. But a lack of rainfall is driving up the cost of business and could potentially bring down the company.

"This past winter had just 2 ½-inches of rain, down from our long term average that is 11-inches, but we haven't had anything close to 11-inches in the past four years," said Thomas Kafsack, co-owner of Surfing Goat Dairy.

"Right now over parts of the Big Island, Maui and parts of Molokai, they're experiencing extreme drought conditions so that's going to have a big effect on the pasture land that the farmers and the ranchers use. So that's going to have very large impacts on what's going to happen with their operations," said Derek Wroe, a forecaster at the National Weather Service.

Thomas Kafsack just hired his 19th employee on Saturday, partially because of the rising demand for his company's cheese. They serve most of the hotels on Maui, all of the Starwood hotels in Waikiki, and even chefs like Alan Wong. But the extreme drought conditions on the Valley Isle are destroying their pastures, forcing it to buy more grass, grain and hay; and work for less.

"My wife and I own the farm and for the last years we were working for less than five-dollars an hour, but this year we will not have even five-dollars, we will have nothing," said Kafsack.

Kafsack predicts he'll have to put between $100-200k into his company just to keep it running this year. Meanwhile, the National Weather Service says help isn't coming any time soon.

"The drought is probably going to get worse before it gets better and looking out into the next precipitation period which is usually in the fall or in the winter, there's a chance that we could be seeing El Nino across the Pacific." said Wroe. "When that happens we tend to get less rainfall in the winter, so odds are looking like this drought is going to get worse."

"If this weather situation doesn't change in two-to-three-years, I have no idea what we are doing," said Wroe.

Experts at the National Weather Service tell us that the deficit in rainfall across the Big Island, Maui, and Molokai has been going on for a few years now, and to alleviate it those islands would need a long sustained period of rain. That's not something they're predicting to happen this winter.