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Jamaica's Coffee Makers Perk Up, Fighting Off Knockoffs and a Storm

Production of the Blue Mountain bean is on the rebound after being hit by Hurricane Ivan and a rash of counterfeiters.

March 26, 2006|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

Most of the farmers who lost their crops to the hurricane have yet to be compensated because their insurer, Dyoll Insurance Co., declared bankruptcy. The government is negotiating with a reinsurance company to cover the local underwriter's losses, said Dave Gordon, data coordinator for the coffee board.

As industry officials continue to steer the post-Ivan recovery, they have helped with seedling nurseries and financing the purchase of inputs. But they caution against expanding the acreage devoted to coffee until they get better productivity on the 12,000 acres already under cultivation, Gordon said.

"We're going on a very, very hard drive to ensure our farms are fully utilized and yield maximized," Wallenford's Bishop said.

Noting that fewer than 1% of last year's beans made the top grade, she said Jamaican farmers who lease company land now must adhere to stringent new planting, spraying, fertilizing and harvesting standards to retain the right to grow the company's signature coffee.

Like many in the industry, Bishop believes Jamaica's coffee output from areas outside the Blue Mountains is underappreciated. About 40% of her company's 2,100 acres is planted in lowland coffee.

"All Jamaican coffee is specialty. Even the lowest category fetches at least five times the price of commodity coffee," Daley said.

Despite rutted roads, mediocre productivity and persistent imitators, Jamaica's premium coffee producers see a promising niche for themselves in the booming world of specialty coffee.

"I don't see how the Jamaican coffee industry can go wrong -- unless Mother Nature sticks in her ugly head again," Bishop said.

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