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Lawmakers progress 2 bills to protect coffee plants by expanding quarantine operations

A coffee leaf damaged by coffee rust fungus in Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala, in May, 2021. The airborne disease strikes coffee plants, flecking their leaves with spots and causing them to wither and fall off.
A coffee leaf damaged by coffee rust fungus in Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala, in May, 2021. The airborne disease strikes coffee plants, flecking their leaves with spots and causing them to wither and fall off.

Coffee leaf rust fungus is one of the latest threats to Hawaiʻi’s agriculture industry. It was first detected in October 2020 on Maui and Hawaiʻi Island, and spread across the state in less than a year. The fungus can reduce growth and sometimes kill coffee plants.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture and Environment passed two bills to protect plants from foreign diseases on Monday.

SB2908 would appropriate funds to expand state-run quarantine facilities. SB2909 would provide a certification process for privately-owned plant quarantine facilities.

Helmuth Rogg, administrator for the state Department of Agriculture’s Plant Industry Division, explained why Hawaiʻi should outsource coffee plants and have more quarantine facilities.

"We're trying to find resistant varieties against the coffee leaf rust," Rogg said. "There's lots of screening going on in coffee-producing countries like Costa Rica, Colombia, where we would have sources of potentially resistant varieties that we could test and bring in and that's the idea with the National Clean Plant Network approach."

NCPN is a volunteer organization working toward eliminating plant pathogens.

SB2909 and SB2908 passed without amendments. They will be discussed in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

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