(BIVN) – The state’s response to a new coffee plant disease was on the agenda today when the Hawaiʻi Board of Agriculture met online.
An ag department report summarized the actions that have been taken since Coffee Leaf Rust was discovered in Hawaii in October of this year.
The Leaf Rust is a devastating coffee pathogen that was first discovered in Sri Lanka in 1869. It has since spread to all major coffee producing areas worldwide, with the exception of Hawaii, until recently.
Back in July 2016, industry experts were warning of the potential impacts should coffee leaf rust ever arrive in Hawaii.
“We saw it when we visited Brazil,” said Andrea Kawabata with the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources four years ago. “Rust will make a leaf drop even if it looks perfectly healthy. It can have a few spots of rust on there and the leaf is on the ground. So what happens is your tree is defoliated. Without leaves that tree may not survive. Your production gets affected, as well. There are quite a few farms here that I don’t think they have enough leaves to afford to lose to Coffee Rust. The researchers are working on breeding resistance into coffee that we have here in Hawaiʻi but they’re also looking at maintaining a good cupping profile on these coffees, because the coffees with resistance tend to not have that good cup qualities.”
As of today, Coffee Leaf Rust has been confirmed on Maui and in Kona, and in November officials instituted an interim rule to restrict the movement of coffee plants and coffee plant material between islands.
The board of agriculture got an update during its meeting on Tuesday.
“Thank you to the department for the enacting the quarantine as quickly as they did,” said Fred Cowell of Kauai Coffee Estate during the meeting. “Still a little bit of confusion in the industry as to how that’s exactly done but i believe we’re working through that without any issues.”
“Regarding increasing the amount of rust resistant coffee that can be grown within the state,” Cowell said, “once a plant completes quarantine it can be put out into the field. It can grow seeds and that could take five years before you start to get seedlings, and I believe we’re going to be coming back to the Plant Quarantine Division and looking for an ability to do propagation in quarantine, so basically – as the plants are safe in a quarantine environment – we can increase the number of starts that are done in that controlled environment. Meaning that instead of waiting five years, we begin to see plant material coming out near the end of that one-year quarantine. So, we’ll continue to work on that with the Plant Quarantine Division.”