Kona coffee farming faced some big challenges in the past year. From destructive beetles (CBB, coffee berry borer) to an invasive fungus that causes defoliation (CLR, coffee leaf rust), plus drought, increased fuel costs, and supply chain disruptions, Kona coffee farmers have had to adapt in order to keep their farms afloat. But Kona coffee farmers are a resilient bunch and are committed to producing their world-class specialty coffee.
Kona Coffee Farmers Association (KCFA) has played an important role in bringing together Kona farmers from across the region to discuss best practices, collaborate on research projects, and share resources. They offer regular workshops and informational sessions with experts and governmental organizatioins such as Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture. At the upcoming annual meeting on February 24th, KCFA members will congregate to discuss solutions and innovations.
Despite referring to the 2022/23 growing season as "farmageddon", there are also opportunities for Kona coffee farmers:
FOR FARMERS WHO SELL RETAIL COFFEE:
Kona coffee is a unique specialty coffee and, though only a tiny fraction of the global coffee market, it has an avid and loyal following. It is also the only specialty coffee grown within the United States, which means it supports sustainable, living wages for farm workers. Increasingly, specialty coffee consumers want to understand the source of their coffee and to support coffee that is ethically produced.
Steve and Joanie Wynn sell their 100% Kona coffee farm-direct
Another benefit is that, with the proliferation of e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, growers can sell their products direct to consumers. By buying online direct from the farm, Kona coffee lovers are supporting family farms and getting the absolute freshest coffee shipped directly to their doorstep.
FOR FARMERS WHO SELL WHOLESALE GREEN COFFEE:
With a decrease in supply, Kona coffee green prices have ticked up considerably and even small Kona coffee producers are finding plenty of interest in their coffee. Roasters are enchanted with this authentic, Hawaiian Kona coffee and are snapping it up to serve their most discerning customers.
Buyers are found domestically, within Hawaii or on the mainland. There is also a thriving market internationally in places like Japan, Taiwan, & South Korea. Most recently, countries in the Middle East have started seeking it out as well, prizing it as a rare specialty coffee.
NEW VARIETALS AND PEST CONTROL METHODS:
Science and the Kona coffee farming community are stepping up to develop hybrid tree varietals that are more pest and drought resistant. There is also a concerted effort among Kona coffee organizations and Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture to develop effective treatment methods for existing issues like CBB and CLR.
Kona coffee producers are making an effort to educate consumers about what it means to be 100% Kona coffee. For decades, Kona “blends” have misrepresented the Kona brand by selling coffee with as little as 10% of beans from Kona. In fact, several lawsuits were filed against retail sellers (i.e., Costco, and Kroger) who sold this inferior product to customers. Legislation was attempted to rectify the situation (HB1517) but, unfortunately, strong lobbying interests among blend producers prevented any meaningful change to labeling laws. Still, all the news helped to bring awareness to this longstanding injustice for the Kona coffee farmers who produce the real thing.
In spite of the challenges that Kona coffee farmers face, there are still opportunities for growth. Geographically blessed with ideal growing conditions, Kona is still one of the few places on the planet that can produce world-class coffee. This means that Kona's specialty coffees will always be highly sought after by US and international consumers alike.
And despite increased costs and pests, Kona coffee farmers are still producing the Kona coffee that is coveted around the world. Kona coffee reflects a unique experience in terms of terroir, location, and sustainable practices. It is an important part of Hawaii's agricultural landscape and, increasingly, an important part of the global specialty coffee scene.
Kona coffee farmers are looking for ways to increase production, diversify their crops and find new markets. With the right support, Kona's coffee farms can continue to thrive for years to come.