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Local coffee farmers brace for yields up to 40% lower than usual

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The Kona Coffee Farmers Association says farmers are bracing for what could be one of their worst years for production. That will likely mean higher prices for coffee drinkers as well.

On Hawaiʻi Island, some farmers say their crop yields are down 30% to 40%. Part of the trouble involves coffee leaf rust and the coffee berry borer beetle.

But heat and drought have been a big factor this year, according to Suzanne Shriner, head of the association.

“We've seen that in Kona and Kāʻu in particular, it's been a very dry year. We didn't get our usual summer afternoon rains, which has brought the harvest in a little bit early because it's been hotter than usual," Shriner told The Conversation.

"We're struggling a bit with it on all ends. The harvest started in July and will continue through roughly December. July is early. 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," Shriner said.

Because there will be less coffee to go around, the price for consumers will increase, she said.

"We'll try and come out equal at the end of the year. But some farmers are reporting yields off 40% over their regular crop, for example. And we can't raise our prices 40% to match that. But we will raise our prices to try and get a little bit closer to even, which is helpful for us — but not so great for the consumer," Shriner said.

Shriner said her members are still gathering research on the impact of climate change on Hawaiʻi’s coffee crop.

"We also had a particularly tough time last year with coffee leaf rust, which defoliated a number of our trees, which reduced yields again. So our trees are having a tough year overall," she said. "We jokingly like to call it 'farmageddon' because it always seems like something new is hitting farmers."

She also wanted coffee farmers to be aware of a Sept. 17 deadline in the Kona coffee settlement about branding as they navigate through the rest of the season.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Sept. 13, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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