Tiny bug creates big problems in Hawaii's coffee industry - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Tiny bug creates big problems in Hawaii's coffee industry

Jim Wayman Jim Wayman
Stuart Nakamoto Stuart Nakamoto
KONA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Kona is world renowned for its coffee but the industry has been under attack by an invasive pest that's already causing you to pay more per cup. 

The coffee industry in Hawaii produces about $30 million a year in revenue, but the coffee berry borer is busy eating away at that money.

"This could kill the industry an industry that's taken 100 years to build up could be gone in 5 or 10 years unless we get a handle on that," said Jim Wayman, Hawaii Coffee Company President.

Three years ago when the pest arrived it was only in 10 percent of farms.  Today 100 percent of Kona farms are infested and it damaged 28 percent of the total harvest last year.  Worst of all is the problem is spreading.

"Each coffee berry borer beetle lays 19 eggs and 45 days later each one of those female eggs lays 19 more eggs so it just keeps growing and growing and growing," said Wayman.

Wayman says the Hawaii Coffee Company roasts and packages more Kona coffee than anyone in the world.  The beetle has impacted the economy, farmers and customers.

"The consumer is either going to have to pay a lot more or the farmer is going to have to get paid a lot less and it's probably somewhere in between," said Wayman.

"It's going to be a pest you have to live with so if nothing else keep it under control," said Stuart Nakamoto, Professor and Extension Economist with the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Manoa. "It's one of the worst pests in the world for coffee growers."

Experts say it's nearly impossible to eradicate so the focus is on controlling the pest.  Farmers must strip the trees and ground of any unused cherries after harvest. They must also cut down feral unattended coffee trees near farms.  Then spray a natural pesticide to kill as many beetles as possible.

It is a lot more work to produce less product which may be enough to make you appreciate the fact that much more than just cream or sugar goes into your coffee.

"I think Kona coffee is a great product. It is always going to be here to stay. Hopefully able to control the berry enough to make a go at it," said Nakamoto. "Support the local growers by trying to purchase local products."

There is a bill at the State Capitol that would spend half a million dollars to research new prevention and treatment of the borer and another $330,000 to control the damage of the beetle.


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