Coffee farmers worried about pending land sale

HILO (AP) – Kau farmers are anxious over the pending sale of lands where they’ve worked to cultivate some of world’s best coffee.

Rusty’s Hawaiian owner Lorie Obra told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald the uncertainty has her worried. Her lease is up next month, she said.

Obra started the coffee farm with her late husband, Rusty, about 15 years ago. The farm on 12 acres of leased land made the Roasters Guild’s top 10 list in a 2012 global competition.

Coffee farms cover 300 acres of the 5,880 acres on the market, said California-based real estate firm Kennedy Wilson, which is handling the sale.

The coffee lands were once part of the Kau Sugar Company. They’ve been leased to farmers, including former plantation workers, in recent years.

The property’s previous owner, WWK Hawaii Holdings, planned to use the land for high-end homes on large lots. But it ran into trouble during the recession. Its lender, Lehman Brothers, bought the land at a foreclosure auction in June.

Lehman Brothers wants to sell all the acres together, said Joel LaPinta, vice president at Kennedy Wilson. Lehman rejected a request by Hawaii County to disconnect the coffee lands from the bulk sale, LaPinta said.

LaPinta last week declined to say how many bids were submitted or when a decision might be made.

“We got a number of offers,” he said. “We’re going back and forth with some right now.”