Untreated coffee plants cause concern for industry on Kauai

KALAHEO — Kauai coffee farmers have been on high alert this week after eight imported coffee plants were discovered at The Home Depot Monday.

That’s because untreated coffee plants could bring with them the coffee berry borer (CBB), a bug that’s devastated coffee crops on the Big Island, Oahu and Maui. There isn’t an established population on Kauai.

Representatives from The Home Depot said the company is looking into the incident.

“It’s something we take very seriously,” said Stephen Holmes, with The Home Depot.

Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture is also investigating.

“I was livid when I found out,” said Fred Cowell, general manager at Kauai Coffee. “I hope DOA (state Department of Agriculture) makes an example of this, even if it’s a fine, because it’s a big threat.”

The eight plants were quarantined and no CBB have been found.

Currently, it’s believed the plants were transported from an Oahu nursery in a shipment of fruit trees, and the DOA is working to confirm the theory. The investigation includes asking The Home Depot to provide information on its recent plant shipments.

It’s unknown, at this point, how many coffee plants were sold to The Home Depot customers before HDOA Plant Pest Control specialists confiscated the plants on Monday.

That’s concerning to Cowell, who said introduction of CBB on the island could cost Kauai Coffee upwards of $1 million a year. Many farms in Kona that have been affected, he said, faced 30-50 percent crop loss and mitigation costs raised the cost of production 15 percent.

Kauai Coffee isn’t the only coffee growing operation on the island. In addition to the wild-growing plants in the mountains, there are farms in Moloaa and Kapahi and ornamental coffee in Wailua.

All that’s fair game for CBB.

“There’s a lot of it around and if it does show up on the Lihue side, even near the airport, we’re downwind of all of that,” Cowell said. “Eventually it’ll find its way.”

In order to help raise awareness and educate the public on the threat, Kauai Invasive Species Committee is working with the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources outreach programs.

Its team is also prepared to help CTHAR and HDOA staff with response if CBB is detected on the island.

“Prevention is always the more affordable option when dealing with highly invasive species, so we ask the public to avoid moving coffee berries or green beans off of existing farms,” said Bill Lucy manager of KISC.

While efforts continue on the prevention front, coffee growers are preparing for the worst case scenario by changing pruning processes, as well as staff and farm organization.

“We’re actively preparing for the day when the threat arrives,” Cowell said, “but you’re never prepared for something like that to show up on your doorstep.”

The DOA is continuing its investigation of the plants and said it’s taking the matter seriously.

Anyone who has recently purchased coffee plants from The Home Depot is encouraged to contact the DOA on Kauai at 808-241-7132 or the State’s toll-free Pest Hotline at 643-PEST (7378).

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