Hawaii’s coffee industry fights back against destructive borer beetle

After four years of rising prices due largely to a destructive pest, the cost of island-grown Kona coffee could soon be coming down.

The coffee borer beetle has been causing major damage to coffee farms since 2010 and that’s led to financial losses for coffee growers and those who sell it, and damaged the quality of the beans.

Coffee borer beetle (Photo: Department of Agriculture)
Coffee borer beetle (Photo: Department of Agriculture)

In 2010, the coffee borer beetle made its presence known on the Big Island, wreaking havoc and destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of coffee.

“Thirty-eight percent of coffee we received from farmers had some sort of coffee borer beetle damage in it,” said Jim Wayman, CEO of Hawaii Coffee Company.

The beetle digs into the coffee cherry and, once this happens, the quality of the the coffee goes down as well as the price.

In 2010, a 7 oz. bag of Kona coffee would cost you about $10. Today, that price is up to $14 or $15.

“That’s a direct result of the coffee borer beetle. There’s a lot less high-quality Kona coffee available right now because it destroys the coffee,” said Wayman.

Luckily there are certain efforts being made that seem to be working.

One of them is sanitizing a farm after the season is over, “which means that at the end of the season, they have to strip all the old coffee cherry from the trees and they have to pick it all up off the ground,” said Wayman.

This removes most beetles and allows farmers to start the next season clean.

Hawaii Coffee Company
Hawaii Coffee Company

The other is a fungus that is sprayed on the cherry that kills the beetle. KHON2 spoke with an expert to find out if these ways of managing the beetle can work.

“It depends on their willingness to be more effective at managing the pest,” said Mark Wright, Department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences, University of Hawaii at Manoa. “These pests are known worldwide and no place where it has infested has stopped growing coffee so it all comes down to intensive management.”

So are the efforts working? “It’s starting to sink in and we are starting to see better farming practices,” said Wayman.

Those better farming practices should lead to better prices for coffee, according to Wayman.

“Yes, we will solve this problem and there will be some short-term pain in getting it solved, but the prognosis for our coffee industry looks good,” said Wayman.

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