Hawaii coffee growers deal with vog, drought, slump

Hawaii coffee growers deal with vog, drought, slump

By Howard Dicus - bio | email

KEAUHOU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii coffee growers attending a weekend convention on the Big Island reported that they have been struggling with poor economic and weather conditions, with lack of rain now the biggest concern.

"We had a triple storm: vog, drought, economic slump," said Chris Manfredi of Kau District. "The economy is slowly improving but the drought is getting worse."

Kau, the southernmost district of the Big Island, now has about 50 coffee growers, who soon will be selling their product at a retail center being built on the site of a new coffee roasting facility that they all will use. "People ask who the farmers are and where they can meet them and where they can buy their coffee," Manfredi said. "We need a single place so we can tell people, 'Go here.'"

Kona coffee, with its worldwide reputation and diehard devotees, has no marketing problems, but lack of rain is dramatically reduced production. "Average rainfall in Kona is 63 inches per years," said Pepe Miranda of Greenwell Farms. "Last season, it was 24 inches." Miranda thinks this year's harvest will be lower than last year. "But the quality will be good," he added.

On Molokai, where Mike Atherton's coffee plantation produced 1.5 million pounds of coffee fruit last season, the Molokai reservoir is at less than half of capacity and the cost of water has risen by more than a third in recent months. "We're expanding our visitor's center and we're going for our liquor license," he said. "Economic conditions have forced us to expand into other businesses."

On Oahu, Dole Food grows 155 acres of coffee, processing it at the old Waialua Sugar Mill. Last year's harvest was 500,000 pounds of coffee cherry. This year it may be closer to 350,000 pounds due to drought. A team of 10 works the coffee and a small cacao operation. Coffee and cacao largely non-overlapping harvest seasons. Dole Food also still grows 3,000 acres of pineapple to supply its own Dole Plantation tourist attraction.

On Kauai, John McClure Moloaa Bay Coffee has also started growing cacao, and also makes tea from crushed coffee hulls. The largest coffee plantation in the state is Kauai Coffee Co., owned by Alexander & Baldwin. It started in 1987 when McBryde Sugar decided to phase out of the sugar business. There has been enough water on Kauai, and Greg Williams of Kauai Coffee has been more worried about his aging fleet of harvesting equipment.

On Maui, the largest coffee operations is on the slopes above Lahaina, where 400 acres of abandoned coffee orchards have been brought back to life in recent years. "We've had two inches of rain since October," said Kimo Falconer of Maui Grown Coffee, who harvested 300 acres last season and expects to harvest 250 acres this coming season.

Kona coffee has been fetching $34 dollars a pound. It is not the world's most expensive. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee costs almost a third more, while Indonesia's Kopi Luwak, which is infamously fed to civets and processed after the cats have excreted them, sells for $160 a pound, said Dan Kuhn, president of the Hawaii Coffee Grower's Association, in briefing to growers on Saturday.

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