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Hawaii receives $700,000 to fight coffee pest

Hawaii Island coffee growers welcomed Monday the news that $700,000 in federal funding had been secured to continue efforts to battle the invasive coffee berry borer.

However, they also argued that state and federal sources still haven’t done enough to protect their industry.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that $1 million in total would be distributed through the Integrated Pest Management Program to pursue scientifically-based approaches to fighting the destructive insect, with Puerto Rico receiving $300,000 and Hawaii receiving the other $700,000. A similar appropriation was made last year.

According to a press release sent by Hirono’ office, since the pest was first discovered in Kona in 2010, Hawaii Island coffee growers have had more than $9 million in crops destroyed by the berry borer.

Bruce Corker, a board member of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association and owner of Rancho Aloha farm in Holualoa, said Monday afternoon that while the appropriation was certainly welcome, more must be done if Hawaii’s coffee industry is to survive.

“Let me first say that we are pleased we have gotten something,” he said. “We are very grateful to Sen. (Mazie) Hirono’s office and Rep. (Tulsi) Gabbard’s office. Both put a lot of work into trying to fund and continue funding this USDA program. The request last year was for $5 million over five years, but we learned that what they had to deal with was the sequester of federal funds. The money is limited — $1 million is good, but not nearly enough to do what really needs to be done.”

Corker added that he and other farmers on the Big Island would like to see a stronger reimbursement program, or even a full government provision, to cover purchases of insecticides used to control the berry borer. As an example, he said that he now uses on his farm an organic pesticide that costs $75 per quart, and recent University of Hawaii recommendations are for farmers to use one quart per acre to fight the berry borer.

“Most farms are spraying four to five times a season; some farms are spraying every month. It’s a lot of money,” he said.

During the current state legislative session, state Rep. Nicole E. Lowen, D-Kailua-Kona, sponsored a bill to provide funding for a pesticide subsidy program that originally asked for $3 million. By the time it was passed by the Legislature, however, it had been whittled down to $500,000.

“We’re disappointed with the state Legislature in terms of what they did to (House Bill) 1514,” Corker said. “But, we are grateful to Tulsi Gabbard and Mazie Hirono. The folks in their offices have been working very hard, and they have put a lot of time into this.”

In the press release, Hirono said she had written directly to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to urge continued funding to fight the berry borer.

“I’ve met and listened to farmers whose crops are being impacted by this alien pest species. Coffee is an important agriculture crop and export for our state — we produce some of the world’s best beans — and it is crucial that we provide the resources our farmers need,” she was quoted as saying.

According to the release, Hawaii Island is home to more than 700 small coffee farms.

“In 2011, coffee farmers in Hawaii produced more than 8 million pounds of coffee, valued at more than $30 million,” the release stated.

Email Colin M. Stewart at


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