Coffee farmers in jeopardy with no federal aid

  • CHELSEA JENSEN/West Hawaii Today file photo Ray Taggart, farm manager at Heavenly Hawaiian Coffee Farms, looks out Sept. 6, 2019, over the acres of coffee grown at the Holualoa farm.

HONOLULU — Hawaii’s congressional delegation has continually urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand its coronavirus relief program to include coffee farmers, but the state’s roughly $50 million coffee industry waits in limbo.

The $16 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, funded through the CARES Act, provides money to farmers that have seen a 5% or greater reduction in yield. Producers of wool, livestock, dairy and crops such as apples, carrots and potatoes are eligible for the program. Coffee farmers are not, despite being the second most valuable commodity produced in the state, according to the Hawaii Coffee Industry’s website.

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Leo Noberte, 75, works eight hours a day, seven days a week to tend to his 50-acre coffee farm in Kau, Hawaii Public Radio reported Tuesday. Noberte said he has lost over $20,000 per month since the pandemic began.

“I sell all roasted to all the store but now no can sell cause nobody buy,” Noberte said.

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The state’s coffee harvest season is due to begin in August. Lou Daniele, the head of the Kau Coffee Mill, said he’s still sitting on $1.2 million worth of coffee he bought in 2019. He questioned how he would be able to pay farmers without federal aid if he can’t even move the crops he bought a year ago.

“Coffee is the second most valuable crop in the State of Hawaii,” Daniele said, adding that there was help for farmers growing papayas, guavas, and Brussels sprouts but not coffee.

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