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Schatz Seeks Federal Support in Fighting Avocado Lace Bug

February 20, 2020, 11:57 AM HST
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US Sen. Brian Schatz is requesting immediate support from the Secretary of Agriculture to help control and eradicate the invasive avocado lace bug threatening Hawai‘i farmers.

Schatz is asking Sonny Perdue for an immediate release of federal resources for farmers affected by the pest, and asked that the Department of Agriculture to develop effective controls to help save avocado trees.

“This pest is a direct threat to Hawai‘i’s avocado crops, valued at roughly $1.6 million,” Schatz wrote in his letter to Perdue. “The time has come to consider a more formal arrangement, with additional resources to provide the support Hawai‘i needs against invasive pests.”

In 2018, Hawai‘i produced more than 870 tons of avocados, making it the third largest producer in the country behind California and Florida. Producers grow many varieties of avocado throughout the state, with nearly 200 varieties known.

The avocado lace bug (Pseudacysta perseae) is found throughout the southeastern US and California. It was first detected in Pearl City, O‘ahu, in December 2019. It was later identified on Hawai‘i Island and in plants at retail outlets on Maui. It has not been determined how the bug was introduced to Hawai‘i.

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Ken Love, president of Hawai‘i Tropical Fruit Growers, said the lace bug was a topic of conversation at the annual Avocado Festival earlier this month. So far, the lace bug has proven to be more of a problem on the east side of the Big Island, Love said. However, he expects that will soon change.

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“Everything else that’s started on the east side has ended up over here,” said Love, who operates a farm in South Kona.

The avocado lace bug feeds on the leaves of avocado plants and extracts nutrients from foliage, causing gradual destruction of the leaves, HDOA explained. It does not feed on the fruit itself but causes green to yellowish blotches on the leaves. Heavily damaged leaves become dry, may curl, drop prematurely and may cause a reduction in fruit yields.

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