‘Perfect storm’ of drought and infestations leave Kona coffee farms reeling

Farmers describe the situation as "farmageddon."
Published: Jan. 12, 2023 at 4:57 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 12, 2023 at 5:41 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - They’re calling it “farmageddon.”

Kona coffee farmers are grappling with crop loss on a scale they’re never seen ― and some are facing closure.

“It was really the worst case scenario for our growers,” said Suzanne Shriner, CEO of Lions Gate Farms and president of Kona Coffee Farmers Association. she said yield were off by about 50% due to a series of factors.

One of the biggest: A fairly new fungus called coffee leaf rust. “When you drive around Kona you see these sad scraggly trees that have lost a lot of their leaves because of coffee leaf rust,” said Shriner.

Bill Myers, CEO of Heavenly Hawaiian, says farmers were also hard hit because of drought and a beetle infestation.

“You add all of those together and that is a perfect storm,” said Myers.

Farmers say recovery will take years, but predict some small farms may have to shut down. Shriner says most kona coffee farms are about five acres and make about $40,000, but now their earnings are cut in half.

Retail, 100% Kona coffee sells for about $50 a pound. Experts predict price hikes later this year.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a pound of Kona coffee in the grocery stores is $60, $65 by June,” said Myers.

But prices can’t go too high because farmers don’t want to lose customers ― so they’ll end up eating costs.

“We are not competing against other coffee farmers, but Costa Rica or Jamaica and we don’t want them to leave Hawaiian coffee,” said Shriner.

Some good news: Many consumers may not see prices go too high because most Kona coffee is sold as a blend with only a fraction of Kona beans in it.