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House committee to consider coffee berry borer funds

February 19, 2014 - 12:05am

Coffee growers are hoping for a venti-sized check from lawmakers this year as the coffee berry borer spreads to all corners of the Big Island.

First discovered in Kona four years ago, the small pest that infests coffee cherries has since spread to Ka‘u and windward areas, threatening production and the quality of the island’s famous export.

So far, control efforts have mostly been focused in Kona, where the problem started. But that could soon change.

On Thursday, the state’s House Finance Committee will consider a bill to provide $3 million to help farmers fight the beetle, triple the amount allocated or approved last year.

David Case, secretary for the Coffee Berry Borer Task Force, said the funds would be used to provide farmers across the island with fungal sprays that have proved effective in containing the beetle on leeward farms.

“The idea is we would be able to have enough money to cover the problem,” he said.

“It’s been successful in that one area,” Case added. “The problem is the beetles are all over.”

The beetle has also caught the attention of coffee farmers on other islands.

“I’m very concerned,” Wayne Katayama, president of the task force and Kauai Coffee Company, said.

“It really is a statewide industry issue. It’s not just a Big Island issue.”

In addition to spraying, coffee farmers are also being taught best-management practices to prevent other farms from being impacted, Case said.

“How fast do these bugs fly? Fifty-five mph down the highway,” he said, noting the beetle is spread by hitching rides between farms.

Katayama said he also expects some of the funds to go toward researching better methods for controlling it.

Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-Kona, who introduced the bill, said the cost of controlling the beetle can become too burdensome for farmers without a subsidy.

Katayama said the state funding could be used as matches for federal grants.

“There have been some very improved results year over year,” he said. “That is what gives us hope.”

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