A national grocer said it has changed its label on packages of Kona coffee blends, making good on a promise it made last year to a group of Hawaii coffee farmers.
But the Kona Coffee Farmers Association said Thursday that Safeway hasn’t fully honored that promise.
Last year, Safeway agreed to change the label on Kona coffee blend products sold on the mainland to add the phrase “10 percent minimum Kona blend.” That was after the association called for a boycott of the company’s 1,700 stores nationwide because farmers said the labels were misleading and degraded the reputation of Hawaii’s famous coffee.
Safeway doesn’t sell the coffee blend in any of its Hawaii stores, so it wasn’t subject to a Hawaii law that requires labels to reflect the percentage of Hawaii-grown coffee, which needs to be at least 10 percent for the state designation.
Instead, the state Department of Agriculture asked Safeway to voluntarily comply with Hawaii’s law.
The Pleasanton, Calif.-based grocery chain agreed and promised to begin selling 100 percent Kona coffee in some California stores.
The Kona Coffee Farmers Association has been watching Safeway closely for these changes. The association said in a letter to Safeway that members have seen the old packaging in mainland stores and is disappointed the company hasn’t started selling pure Kona coffee.
“Given the product shelf life, packaging used before the (changes) may still exist on store shelves or elsewhere in our distribution chain,” said a letter from Brian Dowling, Safeway vice president of public affairs, adding that the company doesn’t plan to destroy or dispose of those products.
Dowling’s letter said that Safeway hadn’t been able to sell 100 percent Kona coffee, but still planned to do so.
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.
KAILUA-KONA >> A proposed bill that would eliminate inspection and certification requirements for green coffee beans shipped from Hawaii is pitting farmers against blenders.
West Hawaii Today reports the bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday. It would remove provisions put in place after a scandal in the 1990s where coffee grown in other regions outside of Hawaii were labeled and sold as Kona coffee.
Blender Hawaii Coffee Co. President Jim Wayman says there are concerns about delays from waiting for a state inspector to grade and certify the coffee.
Farmer Bruce Corker says the Department of Agriculture should hire more inspectors and that buyers on the mainland and overseas won’t have assurances they are getting genuine Hawaii-grown coffee.
The Hawaii Department of Agriculture is proposing to make it easier to import a fungus used to control a type of beetle that is a major threat to Kona’s coffee bean farms.
The Department of Agriculture said in a news release yesterday the proposal seeks to remove the fungus from the list of restricted microorganisms.
Agriculture officials in February approved using pesticides that contain the fungus only with a permit. The department is proposing to remove the permit requirement but the pesticide would still need to be registered with the state.
The fungus is contained in pesticides Kona coffee farms use to control an infestation of small beetles known as Coffee Berry Borers. The beetle has destroyed 60 to 70 percent of coffee crops at some farms.
If one Big Island coffee grower is correct, the solution to the industry’s recent problem with the destructive coffee borer beetle might exist in the coffee plants’ own ecosystem.
The beetle was first detected on Big Island coffee farms this year, particularly in the dry South Kona area. Its spread has proved disastrous in some areas, costing farms as much as 75 percent of their usual yield.
Melanie Bondera of Kanalani Ohana Farm thinks the beetle is likely not new to the island and that the infestation might have been due to severe drought conditions that killed off a fungus — Beauvaria bassiana — that had been keeping the beetle in check for years.
Bondera said she got the idea from another farmer at a meeting last month and conducted a study of infected plants on the organic farm that she operates with her husband.
Examining scores of infested beans, Bondera found evidence of “white crystalline stuff” overflowing from beetle exit holes. When she cut the beans open, she found dead beetles stuck in the exit with the fungus growing out of their bodies.
Bondera, who holds a master’s degree in agriculture, speculates that the beetle has been in Hawaii for years but has been controlled by the presence of the fungus, which lives within the tissue of the coffee plant. She and other farmers think that when the drought hit, the fungus died off, allowing the beetles to do more damage.
Many gardeners in Hawaii have become native plant enthusiasts. More and more people are awakening to the beauty of our native species and learning about them and the vigilance required to save them from harm or eventual extinction. Events like Arbor Day at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden, offering free native plants and information on growing them, help folks learn ways to grow and care for native plants. Interest in these plants, which have thrived in our native forests for millennia, helps raise awareness of the threats a multitude of invasive species pose to them.
One particularly threatening species, the autograph, or signature, tree (Clusia rosea) caught the notice of Darcy Ames, who has witnessed firsthand the encroachment of this species on the ohia forests near her home.
“When I first bought property in Holualoa, I thought the autograph tree was quite lovely,” Ames said. “After a few years of experience, inspection and investigation, I began to realize this tree was capable of destroying the habitat of our ohia and other native species unless we began a proactive course against it.
“After witnessing the damage it can cause, I can honestly say that I hate what this plant is capable of doing. Autograph seeds can be dropped by birds and root as much as 20 or 30 feet in the air in the crotch of an ohia tree.
Conservation Council for Hawaii News Release
The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources is proposing revisions to Hawaii Administrative Rules relating to hunting and game, and asking the public for their feedback. This is an opportunity to urge the state to change the hunting and game management paradigm to reduce the damage caused by introduced continental feral ungulates and game mammals, and provide more opportunities for hunters to help control animals and bring home the meat.
The Kona Coffee Farmers Association is pushing for the state Department of Agriculture to suspend imports of green coffee beans into Hawaii in a move the association said will prevent further crop destruction by the coffee berry borer beetle.
The trade group publicized its wish yesterday following a resolution passed by members two weeks ago.
A technical advisory board to the Agriculture Department may consider the request at a meeting later this month. However, the Agriculture Department has doubts about whether the coffee borer got to Hawaii in green bean imports. The agency along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture is studying the issue.
The agency also is considering whether to prohibit transporting green, or unroasted, beans between islands. Another pursuit calls for seeking biological control methods including finding natural enemies of the tiny bug threatening one of Hawaii’s biggest crops.
Hawaii had been one of only two places in the world free of the borer, Hypothenemus hampei, which is a beetle that’s a bit smaller than a sesame seed and is native to Central Africa.
The devastating pest’s presence is believed to be limited to South Kona, and it may have been present for several years. The beetle’s existence in Kona was reported and confirmed in September.