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Coffee Berry Borers Update

Coffee Berry Borers Still Big Island Only

On September 2, 2010, Dr. H.C. Bittenbender (University of Hawaii CTAHR) and graduate student Elsie Burbano (University of Hawaii PEPS) alerted The Hawaii Department of Agriculture of Coffee Berry Borers heavily infesting coffee berries in the Kona region of the Big Island.  In May of 2011, they were found in the Kau District, in the Pahala area.  These tiny, but very destructive beetles, are about the size of a sesame seed.

Adult Coffee Berry Borer,


Female beetles bore holes into mature and immature coffee berries, still attached to the tree, through the scar on the blossom end of the berry.  They create “galleries” in the berries, where they deposit their eggs.  Once eggs hatch, beetles larvae eat their way through the berry and into the bean of the seed.  Reproduction can continue in berries that fall to the ground.  Adult females remain in the berries once eggs are laid.  The larvae will emerge to find new berries to deposit their eggs and so the cycle continues.

In addition to feeding damage by the beetle, coffee beans are injured by secondary fungal and bacterial infection, and further insect attack.  The combined damage can reduce yield, lower the quality, and possibly destroy the entire bean.

Coffee Berry Borers are extremely similar in appearance to the Tropical Nut Borer and the Black Twig Borer, which are both found on coffee plants in Hawaii.  Physical differences can only be spotted with a microscope, and  sometimes only by an expert.  While the Tropical Nut Borer and the Black Twig Borer may enter the berry from the sides, Coffee Berry Borers bores through the scar at the blossom end of the fruit. In addition, the Black Twig Borer will readily infest coffee branches, while Coffee Berry Borers will only attack the berries.

Unlike the Black Twig Borer, which has been in Hawaii for over 50 years, Coffee Berry Borers can reduce coffee yields by up to 90% in some coffee  producing areas of the world.  For now, the infestation of Coffee Berry Borers in Hawaii has been limited to the Big Island of Hawaii, which is why on February 24, 2012, the Department of Agriculture established permanent rules on the inter-island  transport of green coffee beans (unroasted), coffee plants and plant parts, used coffee bags and coffee harvesting equipment.

Progress Being Made Controlling Coffee Berry Borers

The latest efforts to control and contain this pest include the use of fungus known as Beauveria bassiana, which kills the Coffee Berry Borers.  The Agricultural Board of Directors approved this action in January, 2011, and it seems to be helping along with other measures taken.

Kona Coffee Farmers Association Pests and Diseases Committee members Suzanne Shriner and Bob Smith stated during a panel discussion this past January, that farmers need to take a three-pronged approach that includes sanitizing coffee fields by completely stripping trees of and removing all fallen coffee beans, spraying the fungus on a regular schedule, and using Coffee Berry Borer traps.

In an article written by Chelsea Jensen in West Hawaii Today, Shriver is quoted as saying, “The most important thing you can do is clear the coffee off your trees.  I believe it was because I cleared every single bean off the tree and ground,” that led to her seeing her infestation rate drop from 60% in 2010 to 3% in 2011.

If you ever wonder why coffee costs so much, watching this video will give you an idea of just how labor intensive coffee bean growing and processing is.  Add to that the fact that all coffee berries must be handpicked, often in some very rough terrain and you’ll start to appreciate that morning cup of coffee just a little bit more!

It has been suggested that Coffee Berry Borers have been in the area for years, but that the recent drought conditions that began in 2009, may have allowed the pest to gain traction.

 Coffee Berry Borers a World-Wide Problem

It should be noted that Coffee Berry Borers affect every coffee growing region in the world and while they are destructive and have a negative impact in coffee production, they have never completely wiped out production anywhere.  Industry experts remain optimistic that through continued efforts of inspection, fungal treatments, and trapping can control the problem.



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