By Howard Dicus
HONOULU and KONA (HawaiiNewsNow) – Hawaii coffee growers are plotting a war on the coffee cherry borer, a pest that poses a serious threat to Hawaiian coffees.
The University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and the state Department of Agriculture flew to Kona for meetings Monday in the heart of the Kona coffee district.
Following a morning meeting with the largest coffee growers and processors who handle almost nine tenths of coffee in the district, a larger meeting was planned in the afternoon at the Kona Historical Society next to Greenwell Farms.
Coffee trees are fruit trees and the fruit is called the cherry. The pit is the coffee bean. Hypothenemus hampei, to use the borer’s Latin name, bores into the coffee cherry and lays eggs. Then the larvae feed on the coffee bean itself.
“This is terrible news for our important coffee industry,” said Sandra Lee Kunimoto, chairman of the state agriculture board.
Kunimoto went public with the problem Wednesday, the same day the identity of the pest was confirmed from samples sent from Hawaii and examined by the USDA lab in Riverdale, MD.
Native to Africa, the coffee cherry borer has been widespread for years in Central America and South America. Kunimoto said it now appears the borer may have been in Kona for a couple years without previously being identified.
In South America, higher than usual temperatures in South America over the past 12 months raised coffee berry borer infestation to almost 7% of the Colombian coffee crop.
“Efforts to control the insect and favorable climatic conditions decreased infestation to levels before 2% by July 2010,” said the Federacion de Cafeteros (Federation of Coffee Growers) of Colombia in its newest report.
Skip Bittenbender of the UH College of Tropical Agriculture worked up some guidelines for minimizing the borer’s environment, including reducing shade and pruning coffee bushes to reduce density, two actions meant to lower humidity around the beans.
“Cherries should be left on the ground as little as possible,” Bittenbender said. “Dropped cherries will provide a source for beetles to reinfest the next crop.”
Bitttenbender recommends that the crop be stripped entirely before a main flowering in the following season, in case the borer infests some of the remaining cherries.
“The berry borer problem is like having type-2 diabetes,” said Jim Wayman, president of Hawaii Coffee Co., which makes Lion and Royal Kona Coffee “You may never get rid of it but it can be controlled so you can live a normal life.”
Some growers speculated that the borer may have arrived on the shoes of migrant workers who pick coffee. But growers who oppose blending Kona with other coffees see the new pest as a reason to renew their opposition to coffee imports for blends.
“Hawaii is the only coffee producing region anywhere in the world to permit the importation of green coffee beans,” said Bruce Corker, president of the Kona Coffee Growers Association, which opposes 10% Kona blends.
Wayman, a former president of the Hawaii Coffee Association, says 80% of imported coffee never leaves Oahu, where the borer is not found.
It will be in the economic self-interest of all growers, regardless of their position on Kona blends, to work cooperatively to manage the coffee borer.