KAILUA-KONA (AP) - The coffee borer beetle that was first confirmed on the Big Island three years ago is damaging crops and could jeopardize the region's position in the global coffee market, a grower and processor said.
Tom Greenwell of Greenwell Farms Inc. said that at that time green bean coffee dropped off for processing was of a higher quality than it is now. About 22 percent was graded extra fancy, according to West Hawaii Today.
Greenwell said in the 2012-13 season, none of the green bean coffee could be graded extra fancy, fancy or No. 1. Instead, more than 75 percent of the coffee was graded within the prime categories with the remainder comprising 4 percent peaberry and lower and off grades.
Greenwell said the market for green bean coffee remains strong despite the problems with the coffee borer beetle.
"The market is great and prices are good," said Greenwell, "but, eventually quality is going to catch up with the price of coffee out there, and, they're (the consumers) going to go, 'nah,' because there's better quality coffee out there."
The coffee berry borer is native to Africa. It is a small, dark-brown beetle about the size of a sesame seed. It was first confirmed in the Kona area in September 2010 and then sporadically in Ka'u the following May. The pest destroys coffee when the female burrows into the fruit and lives its life cycle within the bean, causing damage that can make the coffee relatively worthless.
Dozens of people turned out for Greenwell's presentation at the Kona Coffee Farmers Association's annual Expo on Friday in Kailua-Kona.
Greenwell has kept data on the rates of coffee berry borer infestation in the past two growing seasons. His data is based on coffee cherry he's purchased from farmers throughout North and South Kona.
Greenwell presented graphics showing that during the 2011-12 season, coffee berry borer infestation ranged from less than 5 percent in the North Kona Makalei area to more than 20 percent in the area of Tobacco Road in Captain Cook and back down to less than 5 percent near Honomalino in South Kona.
During 2012-13, the infestation appeared to increase with the Makalei area showing a just under 10-percent rate, the Tobacco Road area a more than 15-percent infestation rate, and the Honomalino area, an infestation rate nearing 25 percent.
"We do not have control of the beetle yet, though there are a few farmers that do," he said.
Greenwell is encouraging coffee growers to work together to combat the beetle, as well as deter processors from purchasing highly infested cherry.
"We all need to band together, work together, and do what's right for this industry and get us through it," he said. "The market is there, but I believe it's not going to wait around for us."