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Coffee Leaf Rust has not reached Kaua‘i’s coffee orchards

KALAHEO — General Manager Fred Cowell of Kaua‘i Coffee Company said his nearly 3,000 acres of coffee is just coming out of its bloom season.

“We monitor the blooming very closely because the blooming tells us when the fruit is going to be ready,” Cowell said.

Like other businesses, Kauai Coffee Company has had to furlough some workers during the pandemic. The visitor center was closed during the mandated shutdown last year. In addition, the coffee company has also had to worry about a fungus possibly roaming on the island.

So far, the coffee leaf rust (CLR), caused by the fungus Hemileia Vastatrix has not made it to Kaua‘i. However, the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture has expanded the CLR-infested areas to other islands so coffee farms quarantine their coffee orchards to help stop the spread of the disease.

In a March press release, the HDOA said they filed a request for a specific exemption from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow Hawai`i coffee growers to use a fungicide to help manage CLR, a fungus that is a serious threat to Hawai`i’s $56 million coffee industry.

Later this month, HDOA said the Board is also expected to consider expanding the CLR-infested areas designated, regarding coffee quarantine measures that restricted the movement of coffee plants and plant parts and other CLR hosts from Maui and the Hawai‘i Island, to include Lana‘i, and O‘ahu.

HDOA said these actions are being taken due to CLR detections on Maui and Hawai`i Island in October 2020, and more recently on Lana‘i and O‘ahu.

On March 3, Gov. David Ige delegated the authority to submit the EPA emergency application to Hawai`i Board of Agriculture chair Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser.

“Coffee leaf rust is a plant pathogen that cannot be eradicated once it takes hold so it’s important that we use all available tools, including the use of fungicides, to help manage the problem,” said Shimabukuro-Geiser. “We ask all those who have coffee plants to survey their plants and report possible infections so various management strategies may be implemented to minimize the impact on our important coffee industry.”

Unlike the island of Maui or the Island of Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i’s coffee farmers do not need to quarantine their coffee trees, yet they are still cautious and are doing everything they can to protect their coffee orchards from CLR.

“So the coffee leaf for us that they found out heavily on the Big Island and also heavily on Maui has come to the other islands,” Cowell said. “The state Department of Ag placed a quarantine on any movement of coffee by potential coffee leaf for us bearing products from those locations — so no leaves, soil, or green coffee.

“One thing I cannot protect against is somebody visiting from a farm in Kona and then showing up at my Visitor Center.”

Cowell said once the coffee is roasted, the rust, which is a fungus of spore is killed.

“But you can imagine green coffee or somebody bringing small plants or other kinds of things, could bring it (here) very easily,” Cowell said. “The quarantine has been put in place and then when they found it on Oahu and on Lanai, it was very standard for the Department of Ag to then place that quarantine on those products as well.”

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Stephanie Shinno, education, business, and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or sshinno@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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