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Help is on the way: $300,000 coming to coffee farmers to battle leaf rust

An additional $300,000 will soon be made available to coffee farmers to battle coffee leaf rust on the Big Island.

Coffee leaf rust is a devastating foliar disease that is caused by a fungus. Infected leaves drop off and the tree has significantly lower yields and may die in a few years. CLR can be partially controlled or the spread can be slowed by timely applications of fungicide sprays, said Glenn Sako, who’s handling the grant for the county Department of Research and Development, in documents to the County Council.

“No County General Funds will be involved in this program,” Sako said.

Instead, the money is coming from the state Department of Agriculture, thanks to a bill passed by the state Legislature extending and enhancing the state’s Coffee Berry Borer Pesticide Subsidy program.

The County Council is expected to accept the money in an expedited Bill 85 that will have its first of two readings next week.

“The grant funds will be used to assist coffee farmers by offsetting the cost of fungicides to control coffee leaf rust,” county Finance Director Deanna Sako said.

The pesticide grant program was authorized by the 2014 Legislature, but no money funneled down to farmers until 2016 because implementing the law took longer than anticipated. The program has been extended to June 30, 2023.

“These are relatively new, and serious pest problems for farmers and coffee production. We must help farmers to ensure that programs are effective,” Colehour Bondera, president of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, said in a statement.

Still, he said Monday, the program needs further expansion to include fertilizers that would help the coffee. And, he said, there needs to be a policy in place to get the money to the farmers sooner. For example, he said, money for the fiscal year that ended June 30 isn’t being distributed, although the farmers have incurred costs that are eligible under the program.

“Even though the county is going to be administering this money, the state still has to come up with an accessible strategy and means to distribute it,” he said.

In dealing with coffee leaf rust, much of Kona’s approximately 700 coffee farms will not be able to simply replace their trees with a new variety. While many large-scale farms will have the ability and resources to replace their trees, it isn’t a viable option to most small-scale farmers.

The legislation requires that no single coffee grower shall receive subsidies that are more than $600 per year for coffee berry borer control and more than $600 per year for coffee leaf rust control per acre of land in coffee production, and further, that
no single coffee grower shall receive subsidies that total more than $12,000 per year for the period after June 30, 2021, and before July 1, 2023.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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