More rain good news
for Kona coffee crop

Associated Press

KAILUA-KONA >> The Kona coast has received about 50 percent more rain than usual so far this year, and agriculture experts say that means a better coffee crop.

"It's going to be a pretty good growing season for most people because of the rain," said Virginia Easton Smith, an agent from the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Office, who said coffee needs 60 inches of well-distributed rain a year to grow.

An estimated 35 inches of rain fell in Kealakekua and Honaunau between January and September, about 50 to 60 percent of the amount of rain the area normally gets in that time period, said Dick Mitsutani of the National Weather Service office in Hilo.

But the amount of rain isn't the most important factor -- when the rainfall determines which plants will thrive, Smith said.

The 6-16 weeks after a coffee plant flowers is most critical. If the bean doesn't get enough rain during that period, it won't fill. Unfilled beans in water float during processing and are discarded.

Sotero Agoot, general manager of the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative, said while this season's crop may be smaller than last season's, the weight and volume of the coffee beans will be better, thanks to the increased rainfall.

Christine Sheppard, president of the Kona Coffee Council, said most coffee farmers have reported heavier, more luxuriant crops and expect more beans of a higher grade, which sell at higher prices. Sheppard said she expects at least a 50 percent increase from her own 5-acre farm.

"Some of the mauka farms haven't started picking yet, but everyone we've spoken to is expecting a better season than last year," she said. "It primarily has to do with the rain. We haven't changed any of our farming methods, so it has to be the rain."

According to the Hawaii Agricultural Statistics Service, coffee was grown on a total of 3,400 acres on the Big Island last year, and of that, 2,850 were harvested.

"There has been quite an increase of coffee acreage on the Big Island in the past five years," said Don Martin, a statistician with the State Department of Agriculture. "About a 38 percent increase. From the things I'm hearing there is new acreage, but we don't know the net increase at this time."

Meanwhile, processors are expecting stable prices for this year's coffee market.

Sheppard said she's seen prices for coffee cherry at 90 to 95 cents per pound, an increase over last year's 75 to 85 cents per pound.

"Kona beans are very high quality but there's a premium on bigger beans because they just look better," Sheppard said.

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