Lower coffee standards to continue

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HILO — A compromise among coffee producers statewide is leading to continuation of lower standards that were temporarily put in place in 2014 in the wake of an invasion of coffee berry borers.

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HILO — A compromise among coffee producers statewide is leading to continuation of lower standards that were temporarily put in place in 2014 in the wake of an invasion of coffee berry borers.

The rules will be extended temporarily to give the many voices of the coffee industry an opportunity to work toward a consensus, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Agriculture has scheduled public hearings on the extension of the standards for three more years. The temporary rules were set to expire June 30.

A public hearing is set for 5 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Pahala Park and Community Center and 9 a.m. March 7 at the West Hawaii Civic Center. Other meetings will be held Feb. 21 in Honolulu, Feb. 22 in Kahului and March 3 in Lihue.

“Some wanted the (temporary standards) to expire, and some wanted the standards to extend in perpetuity,” said Hawaii Coffee Association President Chris Manfredi, who is the managing partner of Ka‘u Farm &Ranch Co. Inc.

The standards set the number or percentage of defects such as from insect damage allowed for each grade of coffee carrying Hawaii brands, such as the world renowned Kona coffee, Ka‘u coffee, Kauai coffee and the like.

Some coffee producers favor returning to the stricter rules now that the coffee berry borer is less of a threat to the Big Island, source of most of the state’s locally grown coffee.

Coffee is a $50 million industry in Hawaii, with more than 900 farms accounting for about 8,500 acres in the state. Some 600 of those farms are on the Big Island, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Lowering the standards is tough for the brand,” said Steve Hicks, chief financial officer of Greenwell Farms in Kealakekua, a member of the Hawaii Coffee Growers Association.

Others note the recent introduction of coffee berry borer beetles on Maui as a reason to keep the lower standards in place, at least awhile longer. In the meantime, they say, optical sorter technology continues to improve, making it easier to toss out the bad beans.

A three-year extension of the standards will also allow the industry to come up with more permanent standards, Manfredi said.

“Utilization of these technologies will allow those producers to meet the higher standards without negatively impacting their business,” he said.

Hawaii branded coffee is certified by state inspectors who take a sample of 300 grams, about 1,500 beans, and analyze the sample in their lab.

A bean is considered defective if it has more than two pinholes caused by insect damage. Beans can also be downgraded for other kinds of damage or defects.

Coffee is graded Extra Fancy, Fancy or No. 1, depending on the number of defective beans in the sample. There’s a relatively low tolerance — 18 bad beans for No. 1, 12 for Fancy and eight for Extra Fancy.

Prime grades, such as Hawaii Prime, Hawaii Natural Prime and Hawaii Mixed Natural Prime, are certified on a percentage basis. The old rules allowed 15 percent defective beans, while the temporary rules allow 20 percent.

Labeling coffee beans or ground coffee as “Kona coffee” or other Hawaii coffee origin names is also a controversial subject, but is not addressed by these particular rule changes.

Hicks said coffee producers have been pushing for a statewide market study of coffee farms and production levels of the branded coffee as a first step toward combating possible labeling fraud. The problem, he said, is the cost of such a study. He said producers have asked for state assistance to pay for the survey.

Regardless of the issues the coffee farmer and producers can’t agree on, Manfredi remains optimistic.

“Ultimately, we all want high quality coffee coming out of Hawaii,” he said.

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The rules are posted at

https://hdoa.hawaii.gov/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Ramseyer-4-143-to-post.pdf

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