WAILUKU >> Coffee growers on Maui are bracing for a destructive beetle to eventually make its way to the island.
The coffee berry borer has been wreaking havoc on the Big Island for years. The pest made its way to Oahu in December.
“I’ve been a farmer forever, and I know the reality of these kinds of things, so I expect that at some point it will show up here,” said MauiGrown Coffee President Kimo Falconer. “But we’re ready.”
Preventative measures include some farmers restricting access to their orchards, the Maui News reported Tuesday.
“We’ve had to put signs up trying to reduce the amount of people walking through our fields, but really they can just walk right up there, and maybe they were in Kona yesterday doing a farm tour, and there’s dirt on their shoes,” Falconer said.
Falconer said his farm checks traps regularly and has trimmed back trees that are close to roads.
Some farms that used to offer educational tours no longer do so, said Sydney Smith, president of the Maui Coffee Association and owner of Maliko Estate Coffee. “The beetle is so tiny it gets spread by people coming from the Big Island from dirt on their shoes or their clothes,” Smith said.
The tiny beetle bores into the coffee cherry, and its larvae feed on the coffee bean, reducing its yield and quality. Farmers may not discover them until after harvest.
It’s unknown how the beetle, native to Central Africa, arrived in Hawaii.
“We’re the last coffee growing region on Earth to finally get it,” Falconer said.
The state Department of Agriculture issued a quarantine order that requires a permit to transport unroasted coffee beans, coffee plants and plant parts, used coffee bags and coffee harvesting equipment from Hawaii Island to other islands that are not infested with the coffee berry borer.
The coffee berry borer can cause yield losses of 30 to 35 percent with 100 percent of berries infested at harvest time, according to the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
Coffee berry borer damage is resulting in diminished quality that could jeopardize the region’s position in the global coffee market, a grower and processor said Friday.
Before the pest, identified in West Hawaii in September 2010, green bean coffee dropped off at the company’s processing station was of higher quality with about 22 percent graded extra fancy; 30 percent fancy; 24 percent No. 1; 13 percent prime; 4 percent peaberry; and the remainder, lower H-3 and off grades, said Tom Greenwell, with Greenwell Farms Inc. About 93 percent of the coffee bought was graded Kona.
This harvest, the 2012-13 season, Greenwell said, none of the green bean coffee could be graded as extra fancy, fancy or even No. 1. Instead, more than 75 percent of the coffee was graded within the prime categories with the remainder comprising 4 percent peaberry and lower and off grades.
He also noted the percentage of prime coffee this season will likely decrease because as the season is winding down, coffee berry borer damage rates appear to be increasing placing more coffee in the lower H-3 grade. The current harvest has thus far resulted in about 86 percent graded Kona.
Despite the dismal news, the market for green bean coffee remains strong, he said.
“The market is great and prices are good,” said Greenwell, “but, eventually quality is going to catch up with the price of coffee out there, and, they’re (the consumers) going to go, ‘nah,’ because there’s better quality coffee out there.”
Growers can take steps to reap the benefits of a strong market by making changes to battle the pest and turn out high-quality green bean coffee, Greenwell said. To do this, growers must work together to combat the beetle, as well as deter processors from purchasing highly infested cherry.
Growing coffee in Kona just isn’t what it used to be.
The island’s coffee belt continues to deal with pests such as the coffee berry borer, warmer and dryer conditions, and the increasing cost of doing business. Nonetheless, for many growers, Kona coffee is a love and passion they will continue well into the future — whether the process is easy or hard.
“It’s a lifestyle,” explained Christian Twigg-Smith, third-generation owner of Blue Sky Coffee, located off Hualalai Road in Holualoa. “The industry here in Kona the last two to three years has taken hits with bugs, drought and additional costs, but you either learn to deal with it or get out.”
Twigg-Smith, whose 100-acre estate coffee farm in a good year produces upward of 500,000 to 700,000 pounds of cherry, described the start of the 2012 coffee season as pretty good, thanks in part to “decent” rainfall and good blooms during the spring. A bad season, he said, results in about 200,000 to 400,000 pounds of cherry.
“It don’t think it will be a fat year or a bad year, but an average year,” he said about the upcoming Kona coffee harvest.
Elsie Burbano Greco, with the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources’ Department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences, anticipates this year’s Kona coffee crop will be good.
“There’s going to be tons of coffee,” she said, noting how thick the trees’ white blooms were during the spring. “There’s plenty of berries, but people have got to be spraying and cleaning up to protect the coffee (for harvest).”
The first infestation of the coffee berry borer in the Kau district of the Big Island has been detected at a farm in Pahala, state agricultural officials announced today.
Infestations of the beetle, which threaten Hawaii’s $27 million coffee-growing industry, have been concentrated in West Hawaii.
The coffee berry borer, a small beetle native to Central Africa, bores into coffee beans and lays its eggs, its larvae feeding inside the bean.
State officials said they’re still assessing the extent of the infestation in Pahala and that farmers in the region are asked to inspect their fields and report any suspected coffee berry borers.
The state in February approved the use of the fungus Beauveria bassiana to control the spread of the coffee berry borer.
The Hawaii Department of Agriculture is proposing to make it easier to import a fungus used to control a type of beetle that is a major threat to Kona’s coffee bean farms.
The Department of Agriculture said in a news release yesterday the proposal seeks to remove the fungus from the list of restricted microorganisms.
Agriculture officials in February approved using pesticides that contain the fungus only with a permit. The department is proposing to remove the permit requirement but the pesticide would still need to be registered with the state.
The fungus is contained in pesticides Kona coffee farms use to control an infestation of small beetles known as Coffee Berry Borers. The beetle has destroyed 60 to 70 percent of coffee crops at some farms.
by Carolyn Lucas-Zenk
A destructive insect and two-year drought didn’t affect the quality of Kona coffee, but did cut yield during the 2010-11 season.
Bruce Corker, Kona Coffee Farmers Association board member, said the size of his coffee crop at his 3.8 acre farm, Rancho Aloha in Holualoa, fell approximately 25 percent due to the drought, considered the most intense in Hawaii since the 1999 inception of the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Colehour Bondera, association president, agreed. While the coffee borer beetle and the drought probably reduced the coffee crop, Bondera did not think they caused “ridiculously horrible, dramatic variations.”
Bondera suspects dry conditions did the most harm to farms at lower elevations and farther south, where the drought was stronger and longer. On the other hand, less water helped Bondera’s Kanalani Ohana Farm produce better beans. He said his Honaunau farm had “the best yield ever in 10 years,” and he was not alone in this trend.
Bondera also knows the beetle has proved disastrous for other Kona coffee farmers like Jason Sitith, who reported losing as much as 75 to 80 percent of his usual crop. But what “disturbs” Bondera the most is the coffee prices.
KAILUA-KONA (AP) – Coffee plants and unroasted beans from Hawaii’s Big Island are being quarantined in hopes of preventing the spread of a crop-destroying pest from Kona farms to other islands.
The Hawaii Board of Agriculture unanimously approved the emergency quarantine Tuesday due to the coffee berry borer, which has been found in 21 West Hawaii farms but hasn’t been seen on other islands.
The quarantine restricts the movement of coffee plants, plant parts, green beans and bags unless the items are treated with pesticides or heating methods to kill the beetle and its larvae, according to the Department of Agriculture.
”Movement of green beans is restricted unless it’s fumigated,” said Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Janelle Saneishi.
The beetle was first detected in West Hawaii-grown coffee beans in mid-September. Agriculture officials haven’t yet determined how it arrived on the Big Island.
The quarantine could last up to a year. It doesn’t apply to farmers who are sending green beans out of state.
An emergency interim rule creating two quarantine zones to halt the spread of the coffee berry borer on and off the Big Island is expected to take effect in a few days.
The state Board of Agriculture today passed the rule halting the shipment of unroasted coffee berries, coffee plants and related bags off the Big Island, unless properly treated to kill the alien beetle and its larvae.
Contaminated coffee farm areas from Kaloko in South Kona to Manuka State Park in Kau also are barred from taking unroasted coffee berries, coffee plants, and related bags to areas on the Big Island that are still free of the coffee berry borer.
The quarantine rule will go into effect when it is published in newspapers in a few days and can remain in effect for a year, the state said.
Just returning home from Farmer to Farmer coffee and bamboo projects in Haiti, I have never been more acutely aware of how blessed we are here.
Of course most folks know that Haiti is a poor country, but the news is misleading. Yes, the capitol of Port au Prince was devastated by the January earthquake, but folks who live in rural areas were not as affected. Voltaire Moise and I traveled from north to south and found life much as it had been for decades in the countryside.
The land is rich, plus Haitians are hard-working and self-sufficient. Lack of medical help, schools and good roads makes life difficult, but not impossible.
The city, on the other hand, was literally destroyed.
There were more than half a million people killed and over a million are now living in cardboard and tarp structures until homes and buildings can be rebuilt.
As we left Haiti, an outbreak of cholera had affected thousands and as I write this, Hurricane Tomas is forecast to hit Haiti with 100 mph winds! Folks in the makeshift tents have nowhere to protect themselves. It is heartbreaking! If you want to help, you can make financial donations to the Farmer to Farmer Program of Partners of the Americas. The contact person is Megan Olivier, program director, 1424 K Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20005. The funds will reach Benito Jasmin, Haiti country coordinator of the program. For as little as $50, you can keep a child clothed, fed and in school for one month.