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).”
In the late 1920s, people intentionally introduced birds known as Japanese white-eyes into Hawaiian agricultural lands and gardens for purposes of bug control. Now, that decision has come back to bite us. A recent increase in the numbers of white-eyes that live in old-growth forests is leaving native bird species with too little to eat, according to a report published online on September 17th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication. The findings show that introduced species can alter whole communities in significant ways and cause visible harm to the birds that manage to survive.
"Native Hawaiian songbirds cannot rear normal-size offspring in the presence of large numbers of introduced Japanese white-eyes," said Leonard Freed of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "Their growth is stunted."
State officials are hoping to save Hawaii’s native wiliwili tree with a bug found in eastern Africa.
Mohsen Ramadan, a state exploratory entomologist, spent two months in Tanzania looking for a natural solution to fight the wiliwili-destroying Erythrina gall wasp and found a wasp of the Eurytoma species.
The Eurytoma wasps feeds externally on gall wasp larvae and pupae. It attacks 95 percent of gall wasps in Tanzania.
The gall wasp found its way to all of the main Hawaiian islands after being discovered on Oahu in April. Since then, it began ravaging the wiliwili, which is regularly used for landscaping, and the “tropic coral,” also known as “tall erythrina.”
Hawaii agriculture officials have been conducting tests on the Eurytoma species and to ensure it doesn’t pose threats to anything other than the gall wasp.
It could take up to a year for the testing to be completed and to obtain approval from state and federal agencies for permits to release the parasite.
State Department of Agriculture Plant Pest Control Branch biocontrol section officials are encouraged by what they’ve seen in lab tests of the Eurytoma wasp, which doesn’t have a name. The parasitoid produced its first generation in their lab last week, at the expense of gall wasps.
“If this proves to be specific,” Ramadan said, meaning there’s no threat other than to gall wasps, “it will save the wiliwili.”
The gall wasp is a new species, not only to Hawaii, but worldwide. Its presence was first documented three years ago in Taiwan, and in Singapore, Mauritius and Reunion in 2004, said state biocontrol section chief Kenneth Teramoto.
Teramoto said he thinks the pest may have arrived in Hawaii from Taiwan, which has a developing ornamental-plant industry.