The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded the Hawaii Agriculture Research Centre $1.37 million to address coffee leaf rust (CLR), U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, announced last week.

The funds come from NIFA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiatives programme and will be used to restart the organisation’s coffee breeding programme in order to produce coffee with CLR resistance.

Roughly 1,400 growers on six islands produce $62 million worth of Hawaiian coffee each year, generating about $500,000 in economic activity annually, according to the Hawaii Agriculture Research Centre.

This funding is crucial in supporting the work being done in Hawaii to combat coffee leaf rust and save an industry that generates hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity each year. I am glad that the USDA is continuing to provide the (sic) necessary resources to address CLR and I’ll continue working to support farmers across our state.

Senator Mazie Hirono

CLR in Hawaii was first discovered in Haiku, Maui, in 2020 and has since caused great concern in the local coffee industry.

Hirono has previously called on the USDA to develop a response to the threat. Last year, she introduced the Coffee Plant Health Initiative Amendments Act to expand research funding to combat CLR and other threats to coffee plants.

NIFA has previously granted Hawaii $6 million to fight CLR.

CLR can cause infected leaves to drop prematurely, severely reducing the plant’s ability to photosynthesize. According to the state Department of Agriculture, the fungus can have a negative impact on the size of the berries the plant produces and the overall health of the plant.

The fungus is first noticeable as yellow-orange spots on the upper side of the leaves. Infectious spores resembling a dark orange powder can grow on the underside of the leaves. CLR may also infect young stems and berries.

The fungus can spread backwards from the leaves to the rest of the plant, a condition called dieback, which can reduce future yields by up to 80%. CLR has the potential to destroy the local coffee industry if not curbed.

According to the DOA, fungicides, preemptive pruning and spacing can help control the spread of CLR.

Photo from Hawaii Department of Agriculture

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