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Island farmers to get funds to fight invasive species

Big Island coffee and macadamia nut growers will benefit directly from a package of agriculture bills Gov. Neil Abercrombie will sign today.

The legislation largely boosts funding to fight invasive species, with $500,000 allocated to subsidize the purchase of fungal sprays to fight coffee berry borer beetles and $360,000 for combating another insect threatening macadamia nut orchards.

“It’s very meaningful to a lot of farmers,” said Jim Wayman, vice president of the Coffee Berry Borer Task Force, referring to the amount for coffee farmers.

Another bill allocates $5 million to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to control invasive species. It’s unclear how much of those funds will be spent on the Big Island.

The Hawaii Invasive Species Council referred comment to DLNR, which didn’t return calls by press time.

Wayman said the task force is also contributing $650,000 to help farmers buy the fungal sprays, shown to help reduce the coffee berry borer population. The money came from state and U.S. Department of Agriculture grants, he said.

Those two funds should help each coffee farmer on the island acquire a year’s worth of the product, assuming they spray seven times a year as recommended, said Wayman, who is also the Hawaii Coffee Company president.

The beetle damages crops by boring into the coffee cherry. It was first discovered on the island in 2010.

The infestation rate is at about 20 percent, Wayman estimated.

Coffee farmers aren’t the only ones fighting insects.

Macadamia nut orchards are trying to battle the macadamia felted coccid, which damages and can lead to the loss of trees.

The tiny insect is native to Australia and feeds on tree sap. They were first detected on an orchard in South Kona in 2005.

Growers have used insecticidal oils to fight infestations but it hasn’t shown to be effective enough at controlling populations in older trees with large canopies or preventing the spread of young “crawlers,” which are far less sedentary, said John Cross, treasurer for the Hawaii Macadamia Nut Association.

The state Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, will use the funding to find new methods for combating the infestations, according to the bill the Legislature approved.

That includes identifying and testing “biological agents” in Australia, researching the insect’s phenology, and analyzing the potential of alternative pesticides and the use of natural enemies to reduce their population.

Cross said the Edmund C. Olson Trust II, which has macadamia nut orchards, and Royal Hawaiian Orchards already contributed money for the effort. Cross, who is the trust’s land manager, said both signed a research agreement with the University of Hawaii last December, and contributed a total of $160,000.

A project proposal for the agreement estimated infestation rates at 13 percent around Pahala, the hardest hit area.

Cross said the insect is at least as much of a threat to agriculture as the coffee berry borer beetle, noting it can lead to the loss of entire trees, which take seven years after planting to produce a commercial harvest.

“In all my years of growing many different crops … I have never seen an insect as devastating, as virulent, as this one,” he said.

It doesn’t do the damage alone.

By weakening the tree, the insect makes it easier for beetles to bore into it, which then increases the chance of fungal growth, Cross said.

“The fungus kills the entire branch or tree,” he said.

In addition to the oil, he said growers have a chemical at their disposal that inhibits growth of the young crawlers. But there’s concern about its use since it could also kill bees, needed to pollinate the trees.

The legislation estimates the value of the macadamia nut industry was at $35.2 million during the 2012-13 crop year.

Nearly all of the orchards are on the Big Island, Cross said.

Email Tom Callis at


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