KALAHEO — The Kaua‘i Coffee Company experienced a small outbreak of the coffee borer beetle last week.
The outbreak found was a total number of 33 beetles, and Kaua‘i Coffee General Manager Fred Cowell remained adamant the invasion won’t alter the quality of Kaua‘i Coffee.
The coffee borer beetle, an invasive species originally from central Africa, was confirmed in a residential area in Kalaheo on Aug. 6. But Cowell has been aware of the threat since 2010.
The company will use a Beauveria bassiana spray, which uses a fungus that grows in soils and acts as a parasite on various arthropod species.
“We’ve got a series of protocols we’ve worked out with the University of Hawai‘i as well as the (state) Department of Agriculture so that we try not to infect the rest of the crop,” Cowell said. “The (beetle) can be carried on clothes, and we’ve done very-heavy scouting, and are now in search mode because we know its near where we have to start looking harder.”
One disconcerting fact is that once the species has entered the coffee field, there is no way to eradicate it, according to Cowell.
Because of the multiple variables that affect the production of coffee, such as wind levels, mechanization and rain temperature, every outbreak on farms is handled differently, Cowell said.
“Once it takes hold of where coffee grows, it is always there,” Cowell said. “We just need to address the level of damage. The task is daunting and frightening, and we are training our crew based on what the University of Hawai‘i’s department of agriculture recommends what our contingency plan is. We recognize we can’t stop it.”
Cowell expressed confidence his employees will be able to handle this situation.
“My role is to lead a diversified group of employees to grow, process and sell, and the strength of our team is the reason I am not frightened of the future,” Cowell said.
Containing the pest
State DOA Administrator Kevin Hoffman said he is concerned about the coffee berry borers’ arrival on Kaua‘i because of the amount of coffee cultivated locally.
“Kaua‘i has a large coffee company centered around the Kaua‘i Coffee Company, and up until now they haven’t had to deal with the beetle,” Hoffman said. “The original finds in the residential area are in managing the beetle to increase the same quality as before.”
The borer’s lifecycle occurs within the coffee bean when an adult female lays an egg in the larva when feeding inside the bean, which degrades the quality of the bean by damaging it.
The bean is where the coffee’s economic value is, and provides a reservoir for the coffee borer to reproduce.
“There is an old saying ‘it takes two to tango,’” Hoffman said. “Where you have one beetle, there had to be at least a male and female. Once you have two beetles, the female can mate, and the population forms very quickly.”
Preparing for the worst
Hoffman emphasized the fact it is essential for coffee companies to manage the crop to take care of their bottom line.
Doing this, and still being environmentally conscious, isn’t cost-effective for coffee growers.
According to a 2018 article in West Hawai‘i Today, the cost is roughly $100 per acre to administer BotaniGard, the most common defense against CBB in which the active ingredient is a naturally-occurring fungus, Beauveria bassiana.
Many farmers are spraying upward of a dozen times per season.
“If you are going to produce a good crop, you need to control this beetle so they don’t damage the bean,” Hoffman said. “There is a lot of additional cost associated with the control of the population so they don’t damage the bean.”
Raising the cost of production
The additional expenses associated with the regulation of this beetle can be significant.
It requires manual labor and special environmentally-friendly pesticides.
Hawai‘i has strict importation rules requiring all imported green coffee beans for roasting and associated packing materials must be fumigated before entering the state to ensure beans are free of pathogens and insect pests, according to a state Department of Health press release.
The rules also subject coffee plants and propagative plant parts to strict quarantine requirements if imported to Hawai‘i.
The state DOA requires a permit issued by its plant quarantine division before transporting unroasted coffee beans, coffee plants and plant parts, used coffee bags and coffee-harvesting equipment moving from an infested island to other islands within the state.
The rule also requires inspection by state DOA plant quarantine inspectors, mitigation measures and certain treatments before shipping.
Inspectors will either attach a tag, label or stamp to indicate the shipment complies with all requirements. For unroasted coffee beans, acceptable treatment protocols include fumigation, freezing and heat treatment.
“These are additional costs for growers, and if you don’t do anything, your coffee bean can become unsaleable,” Hoffman said. “It’s an added cost and the farmers will lose. They still will lose some beans to this beetle (even if they control the pest).”
For more information on CBB in Hawai‘i, see the DOA CBB webpage, hdoa.hawaii.gov/pi/ppc/cbbinfo/ and the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources webpage, www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/site/CBB.aspx.
Jason Blasco, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org