By Karin Stanton
Hawaii 24/7 Editor
The battle against the coffee berry borer beetle is entering its third
year and Big Island farmers are reporting some success along with
Fourth generation farmer and coffee processor Tommy Greenwell spoke
Friday, Jan. 25 before about 100 farmers at the Kona Coffee Farmers
Association’s annual coffee expo.
Although some farmers have been successful in reducing the number of
beetles attacking their trees, most still are worried about the
long-term effects on the Kona coffee – and newer but already respected
- Ka‘u coffee brand names.
“The market is great and prices are good,” Greenwell said. “But
eventually quality is going to catch up with the price of coffee out
there and (coffee lovers) going to go, ‘nah,’ because there’s better
quality coffee out there.”
The damage caused by the beetle, which burrows into cherry coffee
beans, already has had a negative impact on the island’s coffee
quality. That could compromise the Hawaii coffee name across the
global market, Greenwell said.
Native to Africa, the coffee berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei) is
considered the world’s most destructive coffee pest. According to the
state Department of Agriculture, the coffee berry borer causes about
$500 million per year in a global industry worth $90 billion per year.
Staff at the Greenwell Farms processing facility checks every bag of
coffee dropped off for roasting and grades its quality. Before the CBB
infestation was identified in September 2010, Greenwell said, about 22
percent was at least extra fancy quality; 30 percent fancy; 24 percent
No. 1; 13 percent prime; 4 percent peaberry; and the rest of a lower
Of the most recent harvest, Greenwell said none of the green bean
coffee could be graded as extra fancy, fancy or No. 1. The majority -
more than 75 percent – fell within the prime categories.
“If this gets worse, we’re going to lose our green (bean) market and
it’ll destroy the Kona name,” he said. “It is a threat to our brand.
The market is there, but I believe it’s not going to wait around for
Greenwell said the current market for green bean coffee is strong and
there is reason to be optimistic if all farmers and growers join the
“We’re past the denial stage. It affects us all at the end of the
day,” he said. “We need to band together and we’ll get through it.”
Since the small, brown beetle was spotted in Kona and, about six
months later, in Ka‘u, farmers have been scrambling to find the most
effective and least expensive methods to eradicate the tiny brown
“We do not have control of the beetle yet,” Greenwell said. “The
bottom line is: only the farmers can control this. We have the tools
available. There is no magic machine to get rid of CBB when it comes
to the mill.”
Farmers are urged to employ a three-pronged attack: Hang traps that
contain a mixture of methanol and ethanol to identify infestations;
strip the trees of excess beans and clear the ground; and finally
spray the ground with Beauvaria bassiana fungus. Although the fungus
occurs naturally, famers have to introduce it to areas where it is
needed to smother the beetle.
Following these methods, Greenwell said he has managed to knock down
the infestation rate in one area of his farm from 47 percent to almost
completely eradicated. Greenwell said his farm currently averages 6
percent infestation rate.
“We’re still on a learning curve. Last year was no problem, but this
year we’re at 10 percent infestation,” said Fred Housel of Kiele O
Kona Coffee Company. “It could turn out to be more expensive and more
damaging than we thought. Everyone needs to be involved in the
Greenwell has been tracking the infestation rate for the last two
seasons, calculated from the Kona coffee cherry brought in for
For the 2011-12 season, Greenwell estimated the infestation at less
than 5 percent in the North Kona Makalei and South Kona Honomalino
areas. That number spiked to more than 20 percent in the area of
Tobacco Road in Captain Cook.
During 2012-13, the infestation rates were hovering around 10 percent
in Makalei, 15 percent around Captain Cook and 25 percent in the
Honomalino area, an infestation rate nearing 25 percent.
That, of course, lowers the harvest. For example, Greenwell said, it
currently takes nearly 8 pounds of cherry to produce 1 pound of green
bean. Previously, 1 pound of green bean could be culled from little
more than 5 pounds of cherry.
Further information may be found at: