Legislators seek $500K to fight coffee berry borer


Big Island legislators are trying to get half a million dollars to fund coffee berry borer research.

HB 353 would appropriate $500,000 to the U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center to “research and develop methods for the prevention and treatment of coffee berry borer beetle infestations.”

The bill sets aside another $330,000 for a grant-in-aid to the coffee berry borer task force, “to fund efforts to control and mitigate the damage from the coffee berry borer infestation in Hawaii.”

The bill has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing, but has been referred to the Agriculture and Finance committees. Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-North Kona, said that may be because Department of Agriculture officials told legislators they would be willing to accept the funding as part of the department’s budget, rather than having the Legislature appropriate it separately. Lowen said she would like to see the bill move ahead to provide another vehicle to ensure the money becomes available for the research.

Bruce Corker, a Kona Coffee Farmers Association board member and its legislative committee chairman, said coffee farmers met with Lowen two weeks ago to ask that the research funding be used for practical steps farmers can take to mitigate the effects the borer is having on their crops.

“Kona coffee in Hawaii County faces an emergency,” Corker said. “It needs to be treated like an emergency. Five hundred thousand (dollars) is a good start. We think more would be better, but $500,000 would be fine.”

Corker said farmers are also asking that the $330,000 be used as cash to aid farmers offset the cost of treating for the coffee berry borer. Such payments could “give them an economic incentive to start that process.”

Lowen said the bill has a good amount of support.

“Everyone can agree on this one,” she said. “The farmers need some help.”

She said the Legislature still has time to schedule hearings for the measure.