Help is on the way: $300,000 coming to coffee farmers to battle leaf rust

A further $300,000 will be made available to coffee farmers on the Big Island to combat coffee leaf rust.

Coffee leaf rust is a lethal foliar disease caused by a fungal pathogen. Infected leaves fall off, the tree produces significantly less fruit, and it may die within a few years. CLR can be partially controlled or spread slowed through timely application of fungicide sprays, according to Glenn Sako, who is managing the grant for the county Department of Research and Development.

“This programme will not be funded through County General Funds,” Sako stated.

Rather than that, the funding comes from the state Department of Agriculture, as a result of a state Legislature bill extending and enhancing the state’s Coffee Berry Borer Pesticide Subsidy programme.

The County Council is expected to accept the funds in an expedited Bill 85, which will be read for the first time next week.

“The grant funds will be used to assist coffee farmers by offsetting the cost of fungicides used to control coffee leaf rust,” said Deanna Sako, county finance director.

The 2014 Legislature authorised the pesticide grant programme, but no funds were distributed to farmers until 2016, as the law’s implementation took longer than anticipated. The duration of the programme has been extended until June 30, 2023.

“These are relatively recent and significant pest problems affecting farmers and coffee production. We must assist farmers in ensuring that programmes are effective,” Kona Coffee Farmers Association President Colehour Bondera said in a statement.

Nonetheless, he said Monday, the programme should be expanded to include fertilisers that benefit the coffee. Additionally, he stated, a policy must be in place to expedite the distribution of funds to farmers. For instance, he stated, funds for the fiscal year that ended June 30 are not being distributed, despite the fact that farmers incurred costs that qualify under the programme.

“Even though the county will administer this money, the state must develop an accessible strategy and method of distribution,” he explained.

To combat coffee leaf rust, a large proportion of Kona’s approximately 700 coffee farms will be unable to simply replace their trees with a different variety. While many large-scale farms have the capability and resources to replace their trees, most small-scale farmers do not.

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