Farmers ask for funding to fight pasture pest threatening Hawaii’s third largest commodity

Fingernail-sized spittlebugs are causing big problems for Hawaii Island ranchers

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The beef and milk industry brought in $43 million to Hawaii in 2017.

However, many of the fields where those cattle graze are losing grass and ranchers aren't even sure how to stop it.

The two-lined spittlebug saps nutrients from the grass and ranchers fear it could cripple Hawaii’s third largest commodity.

The pasture pest was first spotted on the Big Island in 2016.

Back then, it had done extensive damage to about 2,000 acres of pasture.

Farmers currently estimate that number has now exploded to 150,000 acres.

"If we don't get on top of it, will fundamentally change the landscape and the potential for livestock production to exist in the state," said Mark Thorne, Range and Livestock Management Specialist with the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

"It's a major, it's an existential threat really that could cause significant damage for us. So we're very concerned about it," said David Tarnas, State Representative for the North Kona, North Kohala, South Kohala districts.

Thorne said the insect somehow came from Florida and has now spread from Kona to Hualalai and near Honaunau, and threatens an additional 35,000 acres a year.

"35,000 acres a year, puts it into the prime livestock production area in Waimea in about five years,” Thorne said.

With more than 200,000 cattle in Hawaii, the industry has been trying to expand.

Kunoa, also known as Hawaii Meats, previously known as Kunoa Cattle Company, is raising cattle on Kauai and Oahu and has been providing beef for public schools.

The Department of Education said on Tuesday it will be monitoring the situation for any impact to the food supply.

"The challenge to us now is not only how to control the advance and the further impact of the bug, but it's dealing with how we recover," said Palani Ranch Company Board Chair Jim Greenwell.

While ranchers asked lawmakers for money on Tuesday, animal rights activists held signs outside the hearing urging state leaders not to help the cattle industry.

They said taxpayer money should not be used to support them.

The farmers are asking for funding for research, pest control and recovery.

They said the exact dollar amount is still a working progress.

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