State coffee production down, value up

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Over the past five years, the invasive coffee berry borer caused damage to Hawaii Island coffee farms, which has led to financial losses for farmers and those who sell it, declines in production, as well damage to the quality of beans.

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Over the past five years, the invasive coffee berry borer caused damage to Hawaii Island coffee farms, which has led to financial losses for farmers and those who sell it, declines in production, as well damage to the quality of beans.

The tiny beetle’s unforeseen arrival and presence in 2010 was initially very devastating, causing damage of up to 50 percent of some farmers’ coffee yields. But with the proper support and protocols, along with “the faithful application by all farmers,” that destruction has now been reduced to below 10 percent, said Dave Bateman, a Kona Coffee Council member who owns Heavenly Hawaiian Farms and The Other Farm.

The presence of CBB may still be affecting the crop, as evident to the most recent data from the state Department of Agriculture and National Agricultural Statistics Service Pacific Regional Field Office. According to the report released this week, the preliminary estimate for the 2014-15 Hawaii coffee marketings is 8.1 million pounds, which is 4 percent lower than the last season. Also noted is the CBB, which “remains a concern for the industry, though controlling measures are showing signs of progress.”

However, Kona Coffee Farmers Association board member and Rancho Aloha owner Bruce Corker warns about jumping to the conclusion that decline is because of CBB.

“With respect to the published NASS statistics, there is no way of knowing whether or not the 4 percent statewide decline is due to declines in coffee production in Hawaii County — the only county, up until very recently, where CBB was known to be present,” he said. “Up until about four years ago, the NASS coffee statistics for Hawaii gave a county-by-county breakdown of annual statistics. Those county-by-county statistics were useful for us in Kona because roughly 90 percent of Hawaii County coffee production is from Kona. We were able to use that data in making fairly accurate assessments of our annual Kona coffee production.”

Corker thinks the 4 percent decline is probably not due to CBB. He pointed out that most of West Hawaii had “very generous rainfall this year,” and that whenever there’s heavy rainfall, Hawaii County traditionally has high levels of coffee production. Instead, Corker suspects something else could be the cause.

“Although the Kona coffee production was certainly lower than it would have been without CBB damage, my belief is that our production numbers probably were greater in 2014 than in 2013 because of the generous 2014 rainfall, and that the 4 percent decline more likely resulted from lower production in other counties,” he said.

While the total acreage remained unchanged at 9,000 acres, the harvested acreage dropped 300 acres to 7,900 acres this season. Yields averaged 1,030 pounds per acre for crop season 2014-15, nearly the same as the previous season’s average, the report stated. The number of coffee farms in Hawaii has grown from 900 in the 2010-11 season to 920 the following season and 950 from 2012-14. However, the total of farms for the 2014-15 was unavailable.

The statewide farm price for coffee increased 8 percent from an average of $6.20 per pound last season to $6.70 per pound. The farm revenue for coffee is estimated at $54.3 million for this season, 4 percent more than last season, the report stated.

In Kona, yields have dropped and grades such as Kona Extra Fancy have been difficult to obtain. As a result of falling yields, coffee prices have reached record levels, Bateman said. “It’s the ol’ supply and demand curve,” he added.

Besides CBB, Bateman said weather can have an effect on yields, particularly with the drought that has happened over the past six or seven years. He explained the optimum annual rainfall for coffee in Hawaii is considered to be 60 to 85 inches a year and he estimates seeing roughly half that in some areas.

Based on what Bateman has heard, the production two years ago was about half for several Kona coffee farmers and it has slowly gotten better each season. Bateman said there seemed to be more sporadic spurts of rain last season and this season looks like it’s going to be fairly good based on the coffee flowering seen.

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Chris Manfredi, Ka‘u Coffee Festival organizer and Hawaii Farm Bureau president, pointed out the findings in this latest report are based on those reporting, and if not every farmer is participating, the numbers are skewed. He also thinks officials should be re-valuing the coffee crop using green bean values, something he has been trying to get agriculture officials to change. By doing so, it aligns with the rest of the world, he added. Coffee is currently valued and subsequently ranked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at parchment value, which he said undervalues the industry.

This year, Manfredi has noticed a bumper crop and more coffee farms in Ka‘u. He credited the growth in acreage to the very solid foundation built in establishing Ka‘u as a premium coffee growing origin, which includes the popular annual festival celebrating the region’s coffee crop and the international awards consistently won every year, as well as the uptick in the familiarity in Ka‘u coffee farms and their products. One of the challenges that continues to exist for Ka‘u coffee farmers is matching the absorption rate of coffee produced and developing markets, he added.

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