Basil bane putting bite on business

The first-ever fungus infestation of Hawaii’s $6.8 million sweet basil crop discovered late last week has started affecting some businesses while farmers scramble to save their fields.

Most of Hawaii’s sweet basil crop is grown across Oahu and farmers are hastily pruning back their plants and applying fungicide to combat “basil downy mildew” after the pathogen Peronospora belbahrii was confirmed Friday on multiple farms in Waianae, according to the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

It has since been spotted on farms in Ewa and Waimanalo, said Jari Sugano, a UH extension agent who works with commercial farmers in the field.

Ba-Le Sandwiches & Bakery already has seen a price increase in its sweet basil purchases and will bear the extra costs for now, said operations manager Trung Lam.

“We definitely do use a lot of basil — we have basil in drinks and a lot of food items, as well,” Lam said. “We have to absorb it (price increase) for a little while. We can’t just raise prices tomorrow.”

Foodland Super Markets has turned to sweet basil imports, rather than locally grown sweet basil, spokeswoman Sheryl Toda said.

She was told the shortage of local sweet basil is due to the recent rain and “we expect to receive our normal delivery next week.”

The recent cool weather and heavy rain were a factor because they created a friendly environment for Peronospora belbahrii to latch onto the sweet basil leaves