Despite Implementation of Emergency Interim Rule, Controversy Continues
On the Big Island of Hawaii there is trouble in the esteemed gourmet coffee growing area known as Kona Coffee Country. The cause of this problem is a significant infestation of the Coffee Berry Borer which has now been found on dozens of Kona coffee farms.
There are no easy solutions to an infestation of the Coffee Berry Borer, the world’s most harmful coffee pest. Insecticides are only effective in killing the Coffee Berry Borer before the beetle breaks through the skin of the coffee cherry (coffee fruit). In addition some chemicals which might be effective are potentially dangerous to humans and harmful to the environment and thus illegal in the United States.
Some countries that have suffered from Coffee Berry Borer infestations and continue to deal with the pest have tried various methods including introducing wasps and other parasitoids that prey on the borer. Also tried have been ant species and various fungi, yet all of these methods have proved largely ineffective.
Preserving the Brand: Kona coffee
In Hawaii’s Kona Coffee Belt a serious debate has been occurring on how to preserve the high quality and excellent reputation of the premium gourmet coffees of Kona, including the esteemed Kona Peaberry coffee, in the face of the coffee beetle infestation. All of the farmers who are growing Kona coffee are invested in solving this potential major crisis.
Organic coffee farmers have added concerns in that some of the treatments prescribed for green coffee beans involve fumigants that would nullify the beans’ organic status. For this reason alternate treatment methods have been allowed so the organic beans stay organic.
Still there remains disagreements between the small farmers and the large processors on how to best deal with the Coffee Berry Borer infestation and what new laws should be in place as well as what fumigants should be required or even allowed.
Some farmers have noted that the Advisory Panel that first recommended a quarantine did not specifically refer to the chemical fumigant methyl bromide but when the Hawaii Board of Agriculture later met to take up the recommendation it included the suggested use of the chemical gas in the Interim Quarantine Rule it passed, which went into effect on December 2, 2010.
The use of methyl bromide has been widely criticized due to its known carcinogenic properties as well as its harmful effect on Earth’s environment. It’s use was banned by the Montreal Protocol that the U.S. signed in 1987 yet loopholes have allowed its continued use primarily because another equally effective gas has not yet been found.
Kona coffee is one of the world’s premium gourmet coffees, however, and many Kona coffee farmers and others associated with the industry fear that if Kona coffee becomes associated with methyl bromide it will cause damage to Kona coffee’s reputation.
Large processors counter that Hawaii’s coffee crops must be protected or the pest could spread to other areas of the state where there are large coffee plantations as well as small farms which are not yet infested with the Coffee Berry Borer.
This is a huge issue given the large coffee plantations on other Hawaiian Islands, and some believe it is best to use all available means to stop this incredibly harmful pest which causes an estimated $500 million damage to coffee crops each year and in some areas has ruined as much as 90% of a coffee crop.
Some prominent groups of Kona Coffee farmers have indicated that they will appeal the rules and even ask for help from Governor-elect Abercrombie in regards to this issue including a possible rescinding of the emergency Interim Quarantine Rule that was approved by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.
The bottom line is that some uncertainty remains on how to deal with this issue as well as how it will effect, in both the short and long term, the premier Kona Coffee industry.
There is a general consensus among those in the coffee industry who have dealt with this coffee pest that once the Coffee Berry Borer is established in a coffee growing region, as it is in Kona, it cannot be completely eliminated but only controlled, and its further spread prevented.
The current Interim Quarantine Rule restricts the movement of green coffee beans which have been processed and milled but not yet roasted. The quarantine also applies to coffee plants, coffee plant parts including coffee cherry, and coffee bags.
If they are transported within the State of Hawaii they must be treated with either methyl bromide, ProFume, or a heat treatment at 315 degrees Fahrenheit for at least five minutes, which is the method likely to be used by organic coffee farmers. Also approved was an alternative six-step process suitable for organic farmers. (See Kona Coffee Berry Borer Quarantine Update.)
Measures such as pruning the coffee plants properly and keeping the ground free of all fallen coffee cherry are some of the important steps to be taken to control the pest. Care needs to be taken during harvesting and processing to not cause further spread of the pest.
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