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Hawaii coffee producers face hard times with no help from federal relief program

MILAN – The congressional delegation from Hawaii has urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand its coronavirus relief program to include coffee farmers. Federal assistance in the form of a $16 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) was funded through the CARES Act.

It provides COVID-19 relief to farmers, but coffee isnʻt included in the list of approved crops, despite being the second most valuable commodity produced in the state, according to the Hawaii Coffee Industry’s website.

Harvest season is just around the corner for Hawaiʻi’s coffee farmers, but the COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out much of the market to sell what local coffee growers are producing, says Hawaiʻi’s Public Radio in a report.

The plight has been particularly hard for Kaʻū coffee farmers, who have spent the last 15 years making a name for themselves in the local coffee growing industry.

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.

Leo Noberte, 75, works eight hours a day, seven days a week tending to his 50-acre coffee farm in Kaʻū. But as he gears up for this year’s big harvest, he’s scrambling for buyers.

“I sell all roasted to all the store but now no can sell cause nobody buy,” says Noberte. “ ABC Store, Cost-U-Less, KTA, Choice Smart…nobody buying. So every month I losing over $20,000. Every month.”

The coronavirus pandemic caught many of the region’s coffee farmers by surprise, says Berta Miranda. She and her family run a 20-acre coffee farm in Kahuku, which last year began to expand operations to include a coffee shop.

“Two months before the COVID-19, we finished the coffee shop and it was doing really good,” says Miranda.

Then along came COVID-19, which led to widespread shutdowns of many of the businesses that buy Miranda’s coffee. Lou Daniele, who runs Kaʻū Coffee Mill, says he’s frustrated at the lack of federal aid for farmers like Miranda and Noberte.