East Hawaii News

$1.8 Million Earmarked for Coffee Borer Beetle Battle

July 11, 2013, 12:25 PM HST
* Updated July 12, 1:32 PM
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***Updated 2:39 p.m.***

The state and federal governments are teaming up to take on a tiny pest that has been ravaging Big Island coffee farms since 2010.

US Sen. Mazie Hirono today announced the first major federal initiative to battle the coffee berry borer.

The US Department of Agriculture has agreed to spend at least $1 million to fight the pest, Hirono said in a statement.

Hirono said she and other members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation have been working to get funding to fight the beetle inserted into the Farm Bill currently being debated in Congress.

Hirono said she recently convinced Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to take action.

“USDA shares your concerns about the agricultural and economic impacts of this noxious pest,” Vilsack wrote to Hirono in a letter earlier this month. “As such, I am pleased to announce the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service has funded an Area Wide Integrated Pest Management program to aid in controlling the coffee berry borer in the United States.”

Meanwhile, state lawmakers this past session approved a bill appropriating $300,000 for mitigation of damage from the beetle and $250,000 in each of the next two fiscal years for research into ways to stem the beetle’s advance.

However, House Bill 353, which was signed into law as Act 198 on June 26, has a contingency clause which says those funds will not be spent unless dollar-for-dollar matching funds are received from either the public or private sector.

Russell Kokubun, director of the state Department of Agriculture, told Big Island Now that the federal funding fulfills the matching requirement.

He said Hirono has been in touch with state agriculture officials and the University of Hawaii about collaborating on the beetle initiative.

Kokubun said the USDA’s Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo has already begun preparing for the project.

“I think this is an outstanding effort,” he said.

The coffee borer beetle was first found in 2010 in Kona, where it is now widespread, and was discovered in coffee beans in Ka‘u the following year.

State agriculture officials said the beetle has not yet been found on coffee plantations on Kauai or Maui. A quarantine order remains in place requiring a DOA permit for the transport of unroasted beans, coffee plants, used coffee bags and harvesting equipment from the Big Island to other islands in the state.

According to US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the beetle has cost Kona coffee farmers more than $9 million in market losses over the past two years, representing a 25% drop in revenues.

“The coffee berry borer has been a destructive force striking at the heart of Hawaii’s multi-million dollar coffee industry,” Gabbard said in the statement.

“The economic impact has been deeply felt by coffee farms, most of which are small family farms, and coffee processors are being forced to lay off workers or reduce hours,” she said. “The USDA initiative being established in Hawaii will help local coffee growers combat the effects of this invasive and destructive pest.”

The USDA’s efforts will include educating farmers on the most effective treatment practices, researching new treatment methods, disposing of infected plants and other sanitation practices, and researching the genetic makeup of the coffee berry borer to find its weakness.

According to Vilsack’s letter, the new USDA initiative will coordinate the effort with local coffee farmers, the University of Hawaii and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

According to the press release, the Big Island is home to more than 700 small coffee farms.

In 2011, coffee farmers statewide produced more than 8 million pounds of coffee, valued at more than $30 million.

The borer is an insect native to Central Africa that lives, feeds and reproduces in both immature and mature coffee berries. This damage can have a significant negative impact on the quality and quantity of coffee crop yields.

Recent reports have found infestation rates of up to 80% for some Hawaii farms, the statement said.

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