Maui farms brace for destructive coffee beetles to arrive

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.

Borer damaging Kona coffee industry

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.

Coffee farmers, processors split over inspections

Coffee farmers and processors remain at odds over proposed legislation that would get rid of mandatory coffee inspections and grading.

The Kona Coffee Farmers Association, which has roughly 300 members, has vociferously opposed House Bill 280, questioning whether the bill will eliminate the problems it purports to address, such as transporting coffee cherry from one district to another, to sell as pricier Kona coffee. But many of the remaining coffee organizations, including the Hawaii Coffee Association, the Kona Coffee Council, the Maui Coffee Association and the Hawaii Coffee Growers Association, have submitted significant amounts of testimony supporting the measure.

The Department of Agriculture supports the measure’s intent, spokeswoman Janelle Saneishi said.

David Case, a member of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association’s legislative committee, said the proposed changes will affect the Kona coffee brand. But, he said, he’s fairly certain the measure will pass. He said he’s hoping Gov. Neil Abercrombie will veto the bill if the Legislature approves it. To that end, the association presented the governor with a petition with 320 signatures opposing the bill.

Beetle threatening Kona coffee crops

KAILUA-KONA – A beetle smaller than a sesame seed is boring its way into Kona coffee beans and threatening the nation’s only coffee-growing region’s premier crop.

More than 600 farmers in North Kona and South Kona, on the west side of the Big Island, are preparing to coat their fields with a suffocating fungus and are taking other measures to save their livelihoods and protect the world famous Kona coffee brand. While they’re confident they can limit the damage, they acknowledge they face a long fight against a beetle that will almost certainly reduce harvests and force costly chemical treatments and other work.

”It definitely has made growing Kona coffee more challenging,” said Tommy Greenwell, owner of Greenwell Farms. ”Once the beetle bores into the coffee cherry, it digs out a home and lays its eggs. That bean is no longer useable in coffee products. ”

The beetle, a bug known as Hypothenemus hampei that is native to Africa, was formally identified in Hawaii in September, but farmers have reported spotting it for two years. No one knows how it arrived in Hawaii, but growers said they’re not surprised because it’s seen in other coffee-growing regions throughout the world.

”There are 101 theories about how it got here. All we know is it got here from another country and it’s a very, very good hitchhiker