LIHUE — Though climate change is tinkering with coffee production worldwide, those in the industry on Kauai say the state is holding its own and finding ways to adapt.
Drought and intense rain events, as well as overall changes in the seasonal weather patterns in areas like Central America and India, led to changes in production.
Disease and invasive species have taken hold in other areas, such as Africa with the coffee rust fungus.
These kinds of challenges have prompted different farming methods and genetic research into coffee in order to produce more resistant varieties.
“On Kauai, we’re seeing issues with water availability and that’s statewide,” said Richard Loero, owner of Kauai Roasters. “So changing weather patterns impact where you grow and that affects where farmers plant crops.”
Kauai Coffee Company, the island’s biggest coffee producer, uses drones and other technology to monitor and more specifically care for its four million trees on 3,100 acres.
Using technologies that monitor health and nutrition of the plants on a more individual level helps fine-tune the operation and ensure production level is high.
The absence of the coffee borer beetle is another leg-up for Kauai’s coffee, as the pest is dealing deadly damage to crops on Hawaii Island and on Maui.
The beetle is native to Africa and the species lays its eggs inside coffee berries after boring holes in fruit. The larvae finish off the seeds when they hatch, and the cycle continues.
“The only way to combat this is through resistant varieties,” Loero said. “It’s been on the Big Island for five or six years now.”
New varieties of coffee are being developed and have been over the past about 20 years, said expert and breeder Chifumi Nagai with the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center.
She says research is still underway regarding the development of drought and temperature-change resistant coffee varieties, and much of the focus is on developing Hawaii-unique varieties that are resistant to coffee rust as well.
“Now there’s a beautiful pool of brand new coffee varieties being bred,” Loero said, “And it’s ours, something we can go to market with.”
Kauai roasters, growers and retailers all said one thing when it comes to sourcing products from the global market: coffee is cyclical in general, and they’re seeing some minor changes in the market.
“Central America has issues with coffee rust related to changes in weather patterns,” Loero said. “One of the areas on Big Island has limited productivity right now because of coffee borer beetle and drought.”