Preserving the Integrity and Future of Hawaii-Grown Coffee

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A bill advancing through the legislature establishes a timeline by which coffee sold as ‘Hawaii-grown’ must contain at least 50% of actual Hawaii-grown coffee. Coffee growers throughout the state overwhelmingly support this measure. A recent state-funded study showed this change would increase income to nearly 1,500 small farms that are only marginally profitable under the current law.

Currently, farmers who built and preserve the reputation of Hawaii-grown coffee are unfairly forced to compete with fake products, often priced below their own cost of production. 

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A few members of Hawaii’s coffee industry import foreign-grown coffee and mix it with Hawaii-grown coffee at a ratio of 9 to 1, so it may be sold as a Hawaii origin product. The raw coffee they import commonly sells for less than $2/lb., is not subject to the strict grade standards applied to Hawaii-grown coffee, and can contain invasive pests and disease. These foreign-grown blends are then priced many times higher than the commodity coffee that comprises 90% of the blend; often selling for more than $20/lb. solely because of the Hawaii origin name. Blenders are reaping huge profits while farmers get squeezed.

When substandard fakes are profiteered in the market, Hawaii’s reputation is undermined because the consumer can’t taste one bean in 10 – they’re tasting the $2 commodity coffee and paying a premium for it. 

This is important because the practice creates downward price pressure. It’s more expensive in Hawaii to produce coffee than any other growing region. The high cost of land, labor, farm inputs, transportation and regulatory compliance have all risen sharply. Hawaii’s growers are known for producing exceptionally high-quality coffee which allows them to earn prices that enable them to meet these elevated costs.

After years of debate over this inequity, Hawaii’s legislature directed the state’s Department of Agriculture to conduct a market study to examine the impacts of increasing the minimum blend ratio of Hawaii coffee products. The study found increasing the blend ratio to 51 or even 100% will shift revenue away from the blenders and back to the growers. The study also indicated that consumers would be able to better identify and understand the authenticity of the product on the shelf.

Farming is hard work. That’s why the USDA has seen the average age of a farmer increase to nearly 60 years old. Shouldn’t we be supporting our local farmers? Shouldn’t we be encouraging young people to take up agriculture by rewarding them with a livelihood? Tell your legislature to preserve the integrity of Hawaii-grown coffee by supporting HB2298.

Christopher A. Manfred

Government Affairs Coordinator

Hawaii Coffee Association

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