Kona coffee farm

Kona Coffee Farms Face Big Challenges

Kona coffee farmers are facing big challenges this year. Industry group Kona Coffee Farmers Association (KFCA) recently reported that the "Hawaiʻi coffee industry is bracing for what could be one of their worst years for production. That will likely mean higher prices for coffee drinkers as well."

For the 2022/2023 harvest season, Kona coffee yields are anticipated to precipitously drop by as much as 30% -40%. What key factors are contributing to this decrease? Read on to learn more:

CBB (Coffee Berry Borer Beetle):

Coffee Berry Borer Beetle

Photo courtesy of HDOA

This destructive pest has wreaked havoc on Kona coffee farms for years. Originally from Africa, but also prevalent in other coffee-producing regions in Central and South America, the destructive beetle arrived on the Big Island in 2010. As the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) explains, "The beetle bores into the coffee cherry to lay its eggs.  The larvae feed on the coffee bean, reducing the yield and quality of the bean. Because the larvae are inside the bean, it makes it difficult to control by pesticides."

The Kona Coffee Farmers Association (KFCA) reports that, "CBB has been found on all major Kona coffee farms." And the problem is only getting worse. In a recent study conducted by the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, it was discovered that "the number of CBB-infested coffee trees nearly tripled from 2012 to 2018."

CLR (Coffee Leaf Rust)

Coffee leaf rust

Photo courtesy of HDOA

Another challenge confronting Kona coffee farmers is CLR or Coffee Leaf Rust. It first appeared in Kona in 2020. CLR is a fungus that attacks coffee plants and can cause major losses in yield and crop quality. As stated on the HDOA website, "CLR can cause severe defoliation of coffee plants. Infected leaves drop prematurely, greatly reducing the plant’s photosynthetic capacity. Vegetative and berry growth are reduced depending on the intensity of rust in the current year."

Fortunately, HDOA has set up a subsidy program to assist Kona coffee farmers with the costs for pesticides and fungicides to combat both of these devastating pests. But the long-term solution is still elusive.

Climate Change

Kona coffee farmers are also contending with the effects of climate change. The Goldilocks conditions that make the Kona coffee belt ideal for growing exceptional coffee are naturally susceptible to fluctuations in temperature and moisture. Many coffee farms in Kona faced hotter temperatures and drought conditions which brought about an earlier harvest. "We're struggling a bit with it on all ends", commented KCFA President Suzanne Shriner. "In a normal year, we'd start harvesting in late August or early September, but nothing is normal anymore with the weather patterns. Everything is moving around on us. It's been a problem."

Kona Earth Farmer Steve Wynn

Kona Earth farmer Steve Wynn

Kona Earth, a family-owned farm in Holualoa, is still optimistic.  Owner Steve Wynn commented, "Perhaps because we are at a higher elevation, we haven't yet felt the impacts of climate change. We were very fortunate to have ample rainfall continue throughout the growing season."

Increased Costs

As in other parts of the economy, Kona coffee farmers are facing increased costs for everything from fuel to farm equipment. Living on an island necessitates shipping supplies in and out, with those costs rising at every turn as well. Kona coffee farmers are being squeezed from all sides. They are struggling to keep their farms afloat and maintain the high standards that are expected of this world-class, specialty coffee.

What Impact Does This Have?

Kona coffee is an important agricultural product for the state of Hawaii. According to the Hawaii Coffee Association (HCA), "For the 2019-2020 season, Hawaii’s unroasted coffee was valued at $102.91 million (ii), while its roasted value was more than (iii) $148.48 million." The anticipated decrease in yield for the upcoming harvest will have a ripple effect, impacting not only growers but associated businesses that partner with Kona coffee farmers. From green buyers and roasters to restaurants and retail stores, the impacts will be felt throughout the state of Hawaii.

Kona coffee is a unique and precious commodity. Beyond Hawaii's shores, mainland Kona coffee consumers may also feel the impact of pent-up demand and price increases. You can expect to pay more for your Kona coffee this year. But rest assured, it will still be worth every penny. Kona coffee is some of the best in the world, and the farmers who grow it are facing some serious challenges. So, when you buy Kona coffee, you're not only getting a delicious cup of coffee, you're also supporting a struggling industry and the hardworking people who keep it going.

Kona Earth farm

Kona Earth owners Steve & Joanie Wynn inspect the trees

A single-estate farm, Kona Earth strives to maintain its production levels and high standards. Steve Wynn is hopeful that the devastating effects of CBB and CLR have been mitigated on his farm due to early detection and active management.  "It's early in the harvest so it is still too early to judge the final outcome, but so far our beans are looking very good - both in size and quality - with a typical number of defects as opposed to an enormous increase.

The Kona coffee farmers are in for a tough few years. But with the support of organizations like KFCA, HCA, and HDOA, as well as the loyalty of Kona coffee drinkers, they will weather this storm.

At Kona Earth, we hope that you will continue to enjoy our 100% Kona coffee, knowing that it comes from a rich tradition of family farms that face these types of challenges with hard work and resilience.

We'll be sure to keep you updated on all the latest developments from the Kona coffee region. Stay tuned!

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