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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Absent the Consumer Affairs secretary in discussion to save the local coffee industry

Front row, from left to right, Maricao mayor and coffee grower Wilfredo ‘Juny’ Ruiz, Secretary of Agriculture Ramón González Beiró and Representative Jorge Alfredo Rivera Segarra. In second row, ADEA administrator, Jayuya Mayor Jorge ‘Georgie’ González, Villalba Mayor and President of the Mayors Association, Luis Javier Hernández and Dr. Fernando Gallardo, UPR Mayagüez.

By The Star Staff

The Secretary of the Department of Consumer Affairs (DACO, for its Spanish acronym,) Edan Rivera Rodríguez, was noticeably absent during an encounter between coffee growers and the Agriculture Committee of the House of Representatives, where they discussed the necessity of raising to $20 the cost of the bushel of coffee to save the local industry.

According to the Mayor of Jayuya, Jorge González, there was a time when there were at least 1,000 coffee farmers, and now that number has dwindled to less than 100. “The commitment to agriculture has to be real, effective,” he demanded.

Representative Jorge Alfredo Rivera Segarra, president of said Commission, thanked the attendance of some twenty participants, where the most crucial topic “is the salvation of the 2023 harvest, estimated at 50,000 quintals, the most productive since the passage of Hurricane María. The most important thing here is that the Secretary of the Department of Consumer Affairs acts immediately. There is an urgent need because it would be a tragedy if the coffee harvest were lost.”

“The price paid per bushel (28 pounds) of grain must be fixed and established. Remember that the law requires that this price be reviewed every five (5) years by the DACO. That hasn’t happened per the law,” said Rivera Segarra, who added that approximately 250,000 quintals are roasted and milled annually in Puerto Rico.

Since 2015, the minimum price in effect has been $14.58 per bushel, implying a 37% increase if the DACO accepts the recommendation of some roasters to set it at $20. Setting a price per bushel does not represent an increase to the consumer since the same has been paid in recent years. Still, a minimum has not been officially set.

By law, the Department of Consumer Affairs (DACO) is the government entity that sets prices in the coffee industry. Neither Rivera Rodríguez nor a representative for the agency was present during the meeting.

Ramón González Berió, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, reported that he asked DACO to reconsider the proposed increase in the price of coffee, which DACO did not accept. DACO indicated in a resolution of more than 30 pages that Gonzalez Beiró was seeking an increase without offering data or an economic study to support the increase in the price of coffee. For the Secretary of Agriculture, “this is an erroneous conclusion by the DACO Secretary.” Those present at the meeting agreed that DACO should reconsider its decision.

?Among those present were community, education, government, and industry leaders, accompanied by mayors of major coffee-producing municipalities. “Now, the Secretary of Agriculture is with us, but we have to see the position of Governor Pedro Pierluisi,” said the Jayuya municipality mayor.

Agribusinessman Juan Meléndez of Café Tres Ángeles proposed that the government establish as a norm that its coffee purchases be of local origin to guarantee a secure market. The mayor of Adjuntas pointed out that “all countries in the world protect their agricultural industries. We see it in the United States and Colombia. In Puerto Rico, the same thing has to happen. We are in a critical situation and must pay farmers $20 or $22 per bushel. The government cannot continue buying coffee abroad when we produce excellent coffee in Puerto Rico. I congratulate the agricultural entrepreneurs for their sacrifice.”

More expensive quart of milk

Last May, González Beiró and the administrator of the Office of Dairy Industry Regulation (ORIL, for its Spanish acronym,) Javier Lugo Rullán, jointly announced the establishment of a new scale for fresh milk, where the minimum price would be $1.64. The maximum fee would be $1.73 per quart.

After the announcement, The Puerto Rico Chamber of Marketing, Industry and Food Distribution (MIDA, for its Spanish acronym) said last week that retailers were not taken into consideration in the milk increase.

“MIDA wants to clarify that retailers were not provided room to adjust their profit, and they were unfairly kept at 10 cents as they have been for the past 15 years. A few months ago, an increase was granted to the ranchers, and now the processors were allowed to increase as they see fit, but not the retailer. There is no doubt that all the links have suffered increases in their costs and that some increase is justified for all. Still, it is unfair to blame the last link in the chain whose margin has been reduced percentage-wise for the past 15 years”, emphasized MIDA’s president, Joeyleen Quiñones in written statements.

“Regarding the Secretary’s statement that it is up to the retailer to negotiate, we respond that there are no conditions for this since the retailer’s profit has been frozen for 15 years, which in reality has been a continuous reduction if we look at it in percentage terms,” added MIDA’s Executive Vice President, Manuel Reyes Alfonso.

Given the circumstances, Tres Monjitas decided to raise the price per quart of milk eight cents due to the new orders established by the Office for the Regulation of the Dairy Industry (ORIL).

“At Tres Monjitas we made an independent and studied analysis based on our economic reality, the reality of the market, and the search for a balance that will also benefit consumers, farmers, and retailers by providing them with a better value equation per ounce in the larger package size,” said Orlando González Núñez, General Manager of Vaquería Tres Monjitas in written statements.

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