Business/In Brief • Nov. 5, 2013

Farm tries to control coffee berry borer

HILO- A Hilo farmer is taking steps to halt the spread of coffee berry borers.

Troy Keolanui said transparency is the best way to keep the pest, which can cut coffee crop yields by 80 to 90 percent, from spreading to other east Hawaii orchards.

The beetle has damaged crops in Kona and Kau. Hawaii Department of Agriculture officials said last week the invasive African beetle had been found on an Amauulu-area farm.

Department officials declined to say where, citing a desire to encourage farmers to seek help if they suspected an infestation. Keolanui, co-owner of OK Farms Hawaii, contacted the Hawaii Tribune Herald.

Workers eight weeks ago spotted damage to processed coffee beans. Keolanui said the following weeks involved state testing and red tape.

“They’re good people, they do a good job. But everything takes a long time. They have to jump through a lot of hoops,” he said.

The beetle was found in less than 0.1 percent of harvested beans, Keolanui said. Beans are processed and mechanically dried within 24 hours to prevent insects from surviving. Sorting removes damaged beans from reaching consumers, he said.

OK Farms plans to closely track pickers, who can spread berry borers. The farm has sprayed orchards with a natural fungus shown to control the berry borer. The farm will spray again with neem oil, which impedes beetle growth, and insecticide.

“We think Hilo has a great future in coffee,” Keolanui said. “We don’t see this as the end of the world. (The bug) can be controlled.”