The social investment firm Ulupono Initiative, funded by tech billionaire Pierre Omidyar, is looking to purchase Cloverleaf Dairy on the Big Island, one of Hawaii’s last two remaining large-scale dairies and the only one owned by a Hawaii resident.
Cloverleaf Dairy’s owner Ed Boteilho complained earlier this week that he might go out of business if the state moved forward with relaxing rules governing how much money Boteilho should receive for producing milk.
But the Board of Agriculture approved the amendment to allow dairies to waive the price floor, bowing to pressure from the state’s only milk processor, Meadow Gold Dairies, which threatened to stop buying locally produced milk if the prices didn’t drop.
Boteilho’s competitor, Big Island Dairy, a subsidiary of Idaho-based Whitesides Dairy, sought and received a price waiver Tuesday from the board, but Boteilho said he couldn’t afford to do so.
Boteilho said Wednesday that Ulupono Initiative has signed an agreement to enter a due diligence process to explore the purchase of his farm. Boteilho said his decision to sell was driven by his 88-year-old mother, a major shareholder in the dairy, who wanted to ensure the family was settled.
Ulupono Initiative is already planning to establish a dairy on Kauai, but is facing a lawsuit from a neighboring resort and golf course claiming the farm would be a nuisance.
Kyle Datta from the Ulupono Initiative emphasized that the due diligence process won’t start in earnest until January and that the company is considering the purchase because it aligns with its mission of encouraging local food production.
Board of Agriculture member Jerry Ornellas, who ran the last independent milk producer on Kauai in the 1960s, called the potential sale of Boteilho’s business “sad.” The family farm has been operating for more than 50 years.
“We much prefer to see local dairies thrive here,” Ornellas said. “Unfortunately, given the regulations now, it’s really hard for small operations to make it.”
Note: The Ulupono Initiative was founded by Pierre and Pam Omidyar. Pierre Omidyar is the CEO and publisher of Civil Beat.
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