Borer damaging Kona coffee industry


Coffee berry borer damage is resulting in diminished quality that could jeopardize the region’s position in the global coffee market, a grower and processor said Friday.

Before the pest, identified in West Hawaii in September 2010, green bean coffee dropped off at the company’s processing station was of higher quality with about 22 percent graded extra fancy; 30 percent fancy; 24 percent No. 1; 13 percent prime; 4 percent peaberry; and the remainder, lower H-3 and off grades, said Tom Greenwell, with Greenwell Farms Inc. About 93 percent of the coffee bought was graded Kona.

This harvest, the 2012-13 season, Greenwell said, none of the green bean coffee could be graded as extra fancy, fancy or even No. 1. Instead, more than 75 percent of the coffee was graded within the prime categories with the remainder comprising 4 percent peaberry and lower and off grades.

He also noted the percentage of prime coffee this season will likely decrease because as the season is winding down, coffee berry borer damage rates appear to be increasing placing more coffee in the lower H-3 grade. The current harvest has thus far resulted in about 86 percent graded Kona.

Despite the dismal news, the market for green bean coffee remains strong, he said.

“The market is great and prices are good,” said Greenwell, “but, eventually quality is going to catch up with the price of coffee out there, and, they’re (the consumers) going to go, ‘nah,’ because there’s better quality coffee out there.”

Growers can take steps to reap the benefits of a strong market by making changes to battle the pest and turn out high-quality green bean coffee, Greenwell said. To do this, growers must work together to combat the beetle, as well as deter processors from purchasing highly infested cherry.

“We all need to band together, work together, and do what’s right for this industry and get us through it,” he said. “The market is there, but I believe it’s not going to wait around for us.”

Dozens of people turned out for Greenwell’s presentation on the coffee berry borer infestation and its impact on the Kona coffee industry held during the Kona Coffee Farmers Association’s annual expo Friday at Makaeo Events Pavilion in Kailua-Kona.

Native to Africa, the coffee berry borer is a small, dark-brown beetle about the size of a sesame seed, that was first confirmed in the Kona area in September 2010 and then sporadically in Ka‘u the following May. The pest destroys coffee when the female burrows into the fruit and lives its life cycle within the seed, or bean, causing damage that can make the coffee relatively worthless.

Greenwell also presented a multitude of data on the coffee berry borer infestation rate he’s kept the past two growing seasons, based on coffee cherry he’s purchased from farmers throughout North and South Kona.

According to a graphic presented by Greenwell, during the 2011-12 season, coffee berry borer infestation ranged from less than 5 percent in the North Kona Makalei area to more than 20 percent in the area of Tobacco Road in Captain Cook and back down to less than 5 percent near Honomalino in South Kona.

During 2012-13, the infestation appeared to increase with the Makalei area showing a just under 10-percent infestation rate, the Tobacco Road area a more than 15-percent infestation rate, and the Honomalino area, an infestation rate nearing 25 percent.

“We do not have control of the beetle yet, though there are a few farmers that do,” he said. “The bottom line is: only the farmers can control this — there is no magic machine to get rid of CBB when it comes to the mill.”

He also reported data showing the borer has affected the recovery ratio: It now takes nearly 8 pounds of coffee cherry to turn out 1 pound of green bean. Before the borer, the ratio was about 5.5 pounds cherry to 1 pound green bean, he said.

Now in its sixth year, the KCFA and Hawaii Community Federal Credit Union-sponsored expo connects farmers with various services offered in the area, said association president Cecilia Smith. More than two dozen booths offered an array of information, products and services to help local farmers.

Revised CBB recommendations

Also during the expo, Suzanne Shriner, a member of the association’s Pests and Diseases Committee and state coffee berry borer task force, said that after two years of field experience and experiments, the association is changing its recommendations for integrated pest management. The information will be available free at the association’s website, konacoffeefarmers.org, on Monday; membership is not required.

One of the revised recommendations regards the use of coffee berry borer traps. Initially, the association advised that traps could help control the infestation; however, Shriner said the association has learned that the traps are more effective for identifying an infestation area rather than controlling it.

The second revision will address the amount of Beauveria bassiana fungus to administer when treating an acre of coffee, she said. Until now, the association recommended using 7 ounces per acre, however, experiments have shown that using 21 ounces has the same kill rate, but the product continues to kill the beetle for months longer than the smaller dose.

Legislative update

Bruce Corker, a KCFA member who sits on the legislative committee, provided an update on the association’s work with the state Legislature this biennial session. A petition asking Gov. Neil Abercrombie to repeal the state’s 10 percent coffee blend labeling statute was circulated during the event.

The association also plans to introduce, again, legislation to reform the labeling law in 2014, he said. Currently, the state blending law requires only “10 percent blend” be printed in small text at the bottom of a package, what is known as the identifying statement, and leaves it up to a blender to disclose what other coffees were used.

“It’s been 21 years and we’re still at it,” he said about efforts to change the state’s current labeling law. “It’s a long battle, but we’re working on it.”

For more information about the association, visit Konacoffeefarmers.org.