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EPA Approves Fungicide to Combat Coffee Leaf Rust

Courtesy State of Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture

WAILUKU, Hawaii — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved a request by coffee growers in Hawaii to use fungicide to fight a pathogen found on Maui, Hawaii, Oahu and Lanai islands.

The federal agency notified the Hawaii Department of Agriculture earlier this week, approving its request for farmers to fight coffee leaf rust with Priaxor Xemium, The Maui News reported Friday.

Coffee leaf rust was first detected on Maui and the Big Island in October 2020 and on Oahu and Lanai in January 2021.

Infections, which cause coffee plants to change colors, have the ability to wipe out entire coffee crops. Its discovery prompted the Hawaii Board of Agriculture to restrict the movement of coffee plants from the islands.

Priaxor Xemium is permitted for use in controlling leafy vegetables, strawberries, tomatoes, soybeans, wheat and other crops, but was not labeled for specific use on coffee plants.

The state Department of Agriculture, which filed a request in March for an emergency exemption, will now be able to use the fungicide for a year or until its use on coffee plants is added to the product label by the EPA and its producer.

“Hawaii coffee growers now have an added method to combat the coffee leaf rust, which is extremely difficult to manage,” Hawaii Board of Agriculture Chair Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser said. “Other efforts to minimize the damage and spread of coffee leaf rust include quarantines on the movement of coffee plants and associated material, the import of disease-resistant coffee plants and the development of integrated pest management strategies.”

The board has announced plans to host webinars on the use of the fungicide in June.

Greg Takeshima, acting manager for the state's pesticide branch, spoke with The Conversation about the disease-fighting fungicide in April.

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