Destructive Bug Infests Hawaii's Kona Coffee Fields The insect, known as the coffee berry borer, has the potential to reduce crop yields by up to 90 percent. Agriculture specialists have called for mandatory treatment of all beans leaving Kona for other islands.
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Destructive Bug Infests Hawaii's Kona Coffee Fields

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Destructive Bug Infests Hawaii's Kona Coffee Fields

Destructive Bug Infests Hawaii's Kona Coffee Fields

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

In Hawaii, the price of a famous bean, Kona coffee, is also rising, but for a different reason. As Hawaii Public Radio's Ben Markus reports, a destructive bug has infested these beans.

BEN MARKUS: Jason Stith is a Kona coffee grower with a young, hippie quality. He learned how to grow coffee in Latin America in the Peace Corps. The sloping acres of his peaceful farm are filled with some valuable trees.

MARKUS: We were finalists a couple times in the cupping contests. So we can demand a good price for the coffee, but, and we sell it all.

MARKUS: There just got to be coffee to grow.

MARKUS: There's got to be coffee to grow and coffee to sell.

MARKUS: First, the farmers were hit with a damaging two-year drought. Then, as if to add insult to injury, Stith discovered something that made him sick to his stomach. It was a tiny hole at the end of a bean, where an insect had bored in. Stith pulls a branch down and picks a green coffee bean off it.

MARKUS: So you see that? See where he got in right there? And now there's nothing in there. It's just old, rotten bean.

MARKUS: Michael Conway is an agriculture manager for Dole Food Company, which farms 150 acres of coffee on the island of Oahu. He spoke at a recent hearing in favor of mandatory treatments to protect the state's other farms.

MARKUS: This is the first time in my entire ag career that I've seen this type of problem come up where and insect is contained to one area that has this potential to devastate an entire industry. And we really have to act accordingly.

INSKEEP: My guiding principles on this are: contain the coffee berry borer, and then kill the coffee berry borer.

MARKUS: Neil Reimer is with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. He says the USDA is still investigating how the bug got here. But in the meantime, it's here, and farmers must adapt.

MARKUS: Now if you're in a third world country, or, you know, somewhere in South America or Central America, whatever, you can probably get by because labor's really cheap, land is cheap. Where in Hawaii, you know, you just get a small percentage reduction in yield and it could knock you under. So that's - it's even more serious, I think, in Hawaii.

MARKUS: Back in Kona, Jason Stith says the drought and the coffee berry borer together have decimated his season's coffee crop.

MARKUS: Yeah, because it's like - well, there's my - this year...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARKUS: ...right, and it's not looking so good.

MARKUS: For NPR News, I'm Ben Markus in Honolulu.

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