Coffee farmers, processors split over inspections

Coffee farmers and processors remain at odds over proposed legislation that would get rid of mandatory coffee inspections and grading.

The Kona Coffee Farmers Association, which has roughly 300 members, has vociferously opposed House Bill 280, questioning whether the bill will eliminate the problems it purports to address, such as transporting coffee cherry from one district to another, to sell as pricier Kona coffee. But many of the remaining coffee organizations, including the Hawaii Coffee Association, the Kona Coffee Council, the Maui Coffee Association and the Hawaii Coffee Growers Association, have submitted significant amounts of testimony supporting the measure.

The Department of Agriculture supports the measure’s intent, spokeswoman Janelle Saneishi said.

David Case, a member of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association’s legislative committee, said the proposed changes will affect the Kona coffee brand. But, he said, he’s fairly certain the measure will pass. He said he’s hoping Gov. Neil Abercrombie will veto the bill if the Legislature approves it. To that end, the association presented the governor with a petition with 320 signatures opposing the bill.

He disputed comments, made by the Department of Agriculture and Jim Wayman, Hawaii Coffee Co. president, that people who own 95 percent of the coffee acres in the state support the measure.

“We find that hard to believe,” Case said.

Although the association hasn’t polled its 300 members on whether they support the bill, “we don’t get any push back” about the position board members took, Case added.

Wayman said he suspected the association’s members only own and farm about 300 acres of coffee, or 5 percent of the 6,000 acres of coffee grown in the state. Half of the acreage is on Kauai, he said, and listed another thousand acres represented on Maui, Molokai and Oahu.

“They have the right to be in opposition,” he added. “It’s not in any way reflective of how the vast majority of the industry feels.”

Wayman said the Kona Coffee Farmers Association’s opposition is “self serving.” Why should the association be allowed to avoid quality control inspections, by roasting, self-certifying quality and then selling the beans, while requiring processors and farms who transport green coffee beans to wait for a state inspector, he asked.

“They’ve proven voluntary certification works,” Wayman said. “To my knowledge, they’re having no quality problems. We’re saying if we self-certify our own coffee, sign an affidavit it meets the quality standards of the state of Hawaii, it’s the same, in essence, as what the Kona Coffee Farmers Association is doing.”

Another issue, Case said, is the bill’s language doesn’t really address the issue of moving coffee cherry — rumor has it, association officials said, from Ka‘u to Kona and being sold as Kona coffee. The bill addresses green coffee.

Representatives and senators have been selected for an upcoming conference committee on the measure. Hilo Representative Clift Tsuji is the only Hawaii Island legislator named to the committee. A Senate spokeswoman said public notice about the date and time for the hearing should be available soon.

Coffee farmers, processors split over inspections | Hawaii Tribune Herald

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