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Hawaiʻi Island farmers get help to fight destructive coffee leaf rust

Leaves infected with coffee rust on Finca El Valle, outside Antigua, Guatemala.
Jeff Koehler for NPR
Leaves infected with coffee rust on Finca El Valle, outside Antigua, Guatemala.

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaiʻi — Big Island coffee farmers are expected to receive $300,000 from the state to help them battle coffee leaf rust, a disease that can kill coffee trees.

The money comes from the state Department of Agriculture thanks to a bill passed by the state Legislature extending and enhancing the state’s Coffee Berry Borer Pesticide Subsidy program.

The Hawaiʻi County Council is expected to accept the money, West Hawaii Today reported.

Coffee leaf rust is caused by a fungus. Leaves drop off infected trees, which have significantly lower yields and may die in a few years.

Glenn Sako, who is handling the grant for the county Department of Research and Development, said in documents submitted to the council that timely application of fungicide sprays can partially control the disease or slow its spread.

Colehour Bondera, president of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, said in a statement that the program should be expanded to include fertilizers that would help the coffee.

He said there also needs to be a policy in place to get the money to the farmers sooner. He said money for the fiscal year that ended June 30 isn’t being distributed, although the farmers have incurred costs that are eligible.

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