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Kona coffee farmers battle devastating beetle

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KAILUA-KONA » A beetle smaller than a sesame seed is boring its way into Kona coffee beans and threatening the nation’s only coffee-growing region’s crop.

More than 600 farmers in North Kona and South Kona, on the west side of Hawaii’s Big Island, are preparing to coat their fields with a suffocating fungus, and are taking other measures to save their livelihoods and protect the world famous Kona coffee brand. Growers acknowledge they face a long fight against a beetle that will almost certainly reduce harvests and force costly chemical treatments and other work.

The beetle, native to Africa, was formally identified in Hawaii in September.

The state Board of Agriculture last month approved importing two pesticides that contain fungal spores that kill the beetle. The fungus occurs naturally in Hawaii soil but must be sprayed in greater volume to smother the beetles and prevent them from boring into individual beans.

"There was no real question that we needed to do something quickly," said Russell Kokubun, board chairman.

 

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