Established on the lush, and volcanic western slopes of the Big Island, Coffee Times owner, Les Drent, roasted, and sold his first pound of Kona coffee in 1993. Five years later, Les moved his Coffee Times roasting operation to the beautiful island of Kauai, and established the Blair Estate shade grown, organic coffee farm in 2001. While his passion for farming is now deeply rooted in the Kauai soil, he continues to be a strong proponent for the preservation of 100% Kona coffee. Marta Lane lives on Kauai and authors the Coffee Times blog.
February 7, 2011
What’s Bugging Kona Coffee?
Kona coffee farmers are uniting to combat the crop devastating coffee berry borer or, CBB. Already at home in most of the world’s coffee plantations, the beetle officially made its first appearance in Kona last August.
According to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s (HDOA) website, CBB has been confirmed in the drier climates of the South Kona district. Out of 77 farms surveyed on Hawai`i Island, 21 tested positive for CBB. The farm in south Kona that initially discovered CBB has about 60% damage to their crop.
On December 22, 2010, two quarantine zones were established on Hawai`i Island to “prevent and slow the spread of the Coffee Berry Borer,” between islands, according to HDOA’s website. The first zone includes southern Kona from Kaloko to Manuka State park; the second encompasses the Island of Hawai`i.
Heat-treating or, yellow roasting will kill beetles, but can spoil the flavor. “What we’re selling is a gourmet coffee. It’s a coffee that is as perfect as it can be. Once you take a coffee bean and pre roast it, the coffee quality goes down. It’s a nonstarter as far as we’re concerned,” says Bill Smith of Smithfarms and the Chair of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association’s CBB Committee.
A number of farmers believe the beetle has been in Kona for fifteen years and has been stabilized by the Beauvaria bassiana fungus. According to the Kona Coffee Farmers Association’s (KCFA) website, “B. bassiana is a naturally occurring soil fungus that is drawn into the coffee trees’ tissue by the presence of the CBB.”
Farmers are optimistic about the fungus that normally thrives in the lush hills of Kona. “The cool thing about the fungus is if it gets established in the trees, it kills the beetle. And, it stays in the tissue of the trees from year to year,” says Melanie Bondera of Kanalani Farm.
One theory for the CBB’s outbreak is the drought in 2009. “Last year we had our historical drought, and we don’t know if that’s the cause but suspect it might be,” says Smith who agrees that the beetle has been in Kona for a number of years.
Farmers are investigating the successful strategies of their overseas competitors. “I found the fungus on my farm last August, after we first heard about it. I researched what organic farmers are doing internationally, and the fungus is a big deal,” says Bondera whose extensive research on the fungus can be found on KCFA’s website.
Worldwide sustainable measures include installing red colored traps, removing any “dead” coffee beans from the plant and checking every berry before processing.
When processing coffee cherries, the first step is to remove the red skin. This exposes the fruit’s mucilage. Soaking the beans up to twenty-four hours in water removes the sugar so green beans can be stored. Usually, damaged beans float making for easy removal. “We take all the floaters out, but the CBB stuff isn’t just floating, it’s also sinking. So we have to eyeball it,” says Bondera.
HDOA posted an extensive review on the CBB and states, “The coffee berry borer…is the most serious pest of the world’s most valuable tropical export crop.” It goes on to say that CBB “…causes serious economic losses and affects more than 20 million rural families in the world.”
On November 16, 2010, Kona coffee farmers submitted a resolution to the Hawaii legislature requesting emergency government funding to “mitigate the damage from the Coffee Berry Borer to Kona coffee,” according to the KCFA website. The request is still waiting for approval.
Coffee farmers have survived Kona’s long and turbulent history, and the consensus is the CBB isn’t going to shut them down now. “Every coffee producing country in the world has CBB, perhaps for as long as 100 years. Not one of those coffee producing areas quit,” says Smith. “I’m very optimistic, we’ll learn how to manage it.”