It has been a few months since we turned our attention to the island state of Hawaii, the only part of America which grows coffee.
At the turn of the year we reported that farmers on the island were facing a period of uncertainty as the investment firm Lehman Brothers acquired large swathes of land on Ka’u, and were planning to sell it – including parts on which coffee was grown – off.
To compound matters there was a sustain infestation of the coffee berry borer beetle which caused havoc for farmers and local politicians alike: the growers tried to fight off the pest; those in government debated and bickered over subsidies on pesticides.
The borer beetle has been affecting coffee growing areas in Hawaii for the best part of four years which has subsequently led to a number of financial losses for those who cultivate coffee beans and for those who sell them on.
It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lost because of the borer, which digs into the coffee cherry and irrevocably damages the fruit, the bean, the flavour and its market value.
To give an example of the extent of the problem Jim Wayman, CEO of the Hawaii Coffee Company, is quoted as saying that “38% of coffee we received from farmers had some sort of coffee borer beetle damage.”
The result of this has been a substantial rise in the price of Hawaiian coffee from around $10 a bag four years ago to today’s price of around $15 – a 50% increase.
But, in preparation of future harvests, the island is beginning to fight back. Farms are being sanitised – the process of stripping, removing and disposing of all the remaining coffee cherries – and some are also using a fungal spray to kill the beetle in the hope of starting the next growing season with a clean slate.
Eradicating the borer is likely to be a nigh on impossible task, but as Mart Wright, from the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences department, states: “These pests are known worldwide and no place where it has infested has stopped growing coffee so it all comes down to intensive management.”
And these intensive and ‘better’ farming practices are “starting to sink in.” said Wayman.
“We will solve this problem,” he continued. “There will be some short-term pain…but the prognosis for our coffee industry looks good.”