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How Does Coffee Leaf Rust Affect Coffee Production on the Big Island

How Does Coffee Leaf Rust Affect Coffee Production on the Big Island

Sep 26th 2022

Coffee leaf rust or CLR is a fungus that kills coffee trees worldwide. As of today, there is no real protection against it, only products that slow down the infestation for a limited time.

The impact of this disease is very fast defoliation of trees and very rapid death if not treated. Coffee leaf rust causes coffee yields to be reduced substantially.

Coffee leaf rust was not found in Hawaii until just about 1 year ago. This makes Hawaii the last coffee region in the world to be impacted by CLR.

When CLR was discovered last year, there were no products available to farmers to protect the coffee trees. No efficient treatments/products were approved locally by the agricultural department and CLR spread at a very fast pace. Some farms had to stump their fields in the hope that more efficient products would be available next season.

Since last year progress has been made and some products have been approved by the EPA and HDAO to protect the trees. These treatments have had various successes against rust.

Being USDA Certified Organic makes it even more challenging to protect coffee trees as there are even fewer options to limit the damage. We are trying very hard to manage the rust with organic products and are hoping to be able to protect our farm with these. At the same time, we have to be prepared for the eventuality that our current mitigations will not be enough, and will potentially have to make a very difficult decision.

At HALA TREE we are always transparent with our customers.

Just like every other coffee farm in Hawaii our farm also has been affected by coffee leaf rust. We have had various levels of success with authorized treatments and are doing our best to stay USDA Organic Certified.

We have been using various OMRI-approved products in rotation to slow down the CLR. Some of our fields responded well, while other fields have had to be stumped. At the end of last season, we did a round of heavy pruning in order to mitigate the spread and this will also decrease our yield for the coming season.

Although all of our fields are currently certified organic we also manage fields with conventional coffee. We give the same care and attention to our non-organic fields and they are doing very well. We have found that products approved for conventional coffee have been much more effective at treating CLR.

The traditional Kona Typica tree is unfortunately very sensitive to rust, and we noticed a substantial difference in different coffee species in our fields. There are some types of trees that are CLR resistant but they are not available in large quantities. We were able to obtain through official channels two different varieties of rust resistant trees. We only have 20 of each and have started planting for propagation. This is a very slow and tedious process that will take years to implement, but in the end, is the only long-term solution.

For this reason, we will have less USDA Certified Organic coffee. It will only be available through subscription and in limited quantities at our shop.

It was of course a very difficult decision for us to reduce our USDA Organic footprint, but it does not mean that we will not continue to protect the environment. We limit the use of non-OMRI inputs and also decided to move forward with more projects that will reduce our carbon footprint (read our next blog coming soon).

We care about Hawaii and the environment, we love and live from our farm, we employ a great dedicated team, and we need to protect all it. We appreciate your support and understanding that this is the only way we can continue to be one of the premium coffee suppliers in Hawaii in a sustainable way.

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