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Farm takes steps to control coffee berry borer

    The coffee berry borer is a “major threat” to the state’s coffee industry, says U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono.

HILO, Hawaii >> A Hilo farmer is taking steps to halt the spread of coffee berry borers.

Troy Keolanui said transparency is the best way to keep the pest, which can cut coffee crop yields by 80 to 90 percent, from spreading to other east Hawaii orchards.

"As a farmer, this is just something you have to deal with. Like you would if you had a dog that got fleas," he said. "You don’t kill the dog, you give it a flea bath and you clean the area to remove the fleas . and you move on with life."

The beetle has damaged crops in Kona and Kau. Hawaii Department of Agriculture officials said last week the invasive African beetle had been found on an Amauulu-area farm. Department officials declined to say where, citing a desire to encourage farmers to seek help if they suspected an infestation. Keolanui, co-owner of OK Farms Hawaii, contacted the newspaper.

"We’re not embarrassed. This was something that was inevitable . Now, we just want to do our part to slow the spread. To protect other farms from having to deal with it," he said.

Workers eight weeks ago spotted damage to processed coffee beans. Keolanui said the following weeks involved state testing and red tape.

"They’re good people, they do a good job. But everything takes a long time. They have to jump through a lot of hoops," he said.

The beetle was found less than .1 percent of harvested cherry, Keolanui said. Beans are processed and mechanically dried within 24 hours to prevent insects from surviving. Sorting removes damaged beans from reaching consumers, he said.

OK Farms plans to closely track pickers, who can spread berry borers. The farm has sprayed orchards with a natural fungus shown to control the berry borer. The farm will spray again with neem oil, which impedes beetle growth, and insecticide.

About half the 500-acre farm is dedicated to macadamia nuts. The farm also grows cacao, heart of palm, oranges, lychee, longans, tangerines, tangelos, limes, lemons, pineapple, clove and cinnamon. The farm’s 6 acres of coffee will be expanded by 5 more acres, he said.

"We think Hilo has a great future in coffee," he said. "We don’t see this as the end of the world. (The bug) can be controlled."

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