Coffee berry borer damage is resulting in diminished quality that could jeopardize the region’s position in the global coffee market, a grower and processor said Friday.
Before the pest, identified in West Hawaii in September 2010, green bean coffee dropped off at the company’s processing station was of higher quality with about 22 percent graded extra fancy; 30 percent fancy; 24 percent No. 1; 13 percent prime; 4 percent peaberry; and the remainder, lower H-3 and off grades, said Tom Greenwell, with Greenwell Farms Inc. About 93 percent of the coffee bought was graded Kona.
This harvest, the 2012-13 season, Greenwell said, none of the green bean coffee could be graded as extra fancy, fancy or even No. 1. Instead, more than 75 percent of the coffee was graded within the prime categories with the remainder comprising 4 percent peaberry and lower and off grades.
He also noted the percentage of prime coffee this season will likely decrease because as the season is winding down, coffee berry borer damage rates appear to be increasing placing more coffee in the lower H-3 grade. The current harvest has thus far resulted in about 86 percent graded Kona.
Despite the dismal news, the market for green bean coffee remains strong, he said.
“The market is great and prices are good,” said Greenwell, “but, eventually quality is going to catch up with the price of coffee out there, and, they’re (the consumers) going to go, ‘nah,’ because there’s better quality coffee out there.”
Growers can take steps to reap the benefits of a strong market by making changes to battle the pest and turn out high-quality green bean coffee, Greenwell said. To do this, growers must work together to combat the beetle, as well as deter processors from purchasing highly infested cherry.
Growing coffee in Kona just isn’t what it used to be.
The island’s coffee belt continues to deal with pests such as the coffee berry borer, warmer and dryer conditions, and the increasing cost of doing business. Nonetheless, for many growers, Kona coffee is a love and passion they will continue well into the future — whether the process is easy or hard.
“It’s a lifestyle,” explained Christian Twigg-Smith, third-generation owner of Blue Sky Coffee, located off Hualalai Road in Holualoa. “The industry here in Kona the last two to three years has taken hits with bugs, drought and additional costs, but you either learn to deal with it or get out.”
Twigg-Smith, whose 100-acre estate coffee farm in a good year produces upward of 500,000 to 700,000 pounds of cherry, described the start of the 2012 coffee season as pretty good, thanks in part to “decent” rainfall and good blooms during the spring. A bad season, he said, results in about 200,000 to 400,000 pounds of cherry.
“It don’t think it will be a fat year or a bad year, but an average year,” he said about the upcoming Kona coffee harvest.
Elsie Burbano Greco, with the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources’ Department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences, anticipates this year’s Kona coffee crop will be good.
“There’s going to be tons of coffee,” she said, noting how thick the trees’ white blooms were during the spring. “There’s plenty of berries, but people have got to be spraying and cleaning up to protect the coffee (for harvest).”
Some 14 Hawaii Island farmers, ranchers, food purveyors and ag entrepreneurs were among the “Heroes of Agriculture, Food and Environment” honored at the Hawaii Agriculture Conference held Sept. 23-24 at Ko’Olina, Oahu.
Ag conference organizers began polling the agriculture community in August, seeking nominations in seven categories. A review team then selects the winners based on the write-ups submitted.
“We were looking for the behind-the-scene heroes, the humble leaders,” said Kim Coffee-Isaak, executive director of the Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawaii.
The 2010 Heroes of Agriculture, Food and the Environment are:
The H-2A program allows agricultural employers to bring in foreign workers when there is a shortage of U.S. workers.
2008 | H-2A approved
» Bay View Farms: 10
» Bird Feather Hawaii: 25
» Captain Cook Honey: 2
» Hawaiian Queen Co.: 4
» Haleakala Ranch Co.: 1
» Kapapala Ranch: 1
» Kona Cold Lobsters: 8
» Kona Coffee Grounds : 36
» Larry Jefts Farms: 48
» Rincon Family Farms: 2
2008 | Rejected
» Bird Feather Hawaii : 10
» Precy Nazaire/Hawaii Agricultural Labor Services: 50
» Takenaka Nursery: 5
2009 | H2-A approved
» Bird FeatherHawaii: 18
» Captain Cook Honey: 2
» Global Ag Labor: 48
» Haleakala Ranch: 1
» Hawaiian Queen Co.: 6
» Kapapala Ranch: 2
» Kona Coffee Grounds: 28
» Kona Queen Hawaii : 5
» Larry Jefts Farms: 40
» Richard T. Watanabe Farm: 1
» Waikele Farms: 80
2009 | Rejected
» Bird Feather Hawaii: 3
» Global Ag Labor: 12
» Greenwell Farms: 12
» Kona Queen Hawaii: 2
» Palehua Ohana Farmers Cooperative: 8
Source: U.S. Department of Labor’s Foreign Labor Certification Data Center