Growers and Researchers Collaborate to Control Coffee Berry Borer

Coffee growers work with IR-4 Project researchers and university cooperative extension agents to develop effective integrated control programs to limit damage from coffee berry borer.

Author – David Kuack

The coffee berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei) was found in Puerto Rico in 2007 and in Hawai‘i Island’s Kona region in 2010. Photo courtesy of the Hawai‘i Dept. of Agriculture.

Only the European Union imports more coffee beans than the United States. About 90 percent of the coffee consumed in the United States is imported. According to USDA, most of that coffee comes from South American countries and Vietnam.

Coffee is produced in the United States in Hawai‘i and California and the US territory of Puerto Rico. Coffee is grown on five Hawaiian Islands on about 1,475 farms. Coffee is produced on about 9,300 acres with an estimated total of 26.2 million pounds (cherry basis) for 2019-2020.

Julie Coughlin, IR-4 Project regional field research director at the University of Hawai‘i—Manoa, said there is an eclectic group of coffee growers in Hawai‘i. While most of the state’s growers operate smaller operations there are four large, mechanically-harvested coffee farms.

“There are different stages in regards to how the coffee is being marketed,” Coughlin said. “Some growers produce the cherries and sell them to other larger growers who process them. It is also sold as green bean or as roasted coffee.

“There are small growers in Kona who are running vertical operations. They grow the coffee, process it as green bean, roast it and then market it. Some growers market their green beans to Japan and Korea. They are trying to expand the export market.”

On Puerto Rico, up until Hurricane Maria slammed into the island in September 2017, coffee was a thriving industry. The Category 5 storm destroyed about 18 million coffee trees, which was an estimated 85 percent of the coffee growers’ crop.

“Coffee was one of the main industries in Puerto Rico,” said Wilfredo Robles, professor of weed science at the IR-4 Field Research Center at the University of Puerto Rico in Corozal. “Hurricane Maria forced many coffee growers out of business because the high winds tore down the coffee trees. The wind damage was extensive. Coffee is produced mainly in the mountains at higher elevations, more than 1,000 feet above sea level.”

When the coffee berry borer was found in Hawai‘i, IR-4 and University of Hawai‘i researchers began screening pesticides and biopesticides for activity against the beetle. Photo by Julie Coughlin, Univ. of Hawai‘i.

According to the USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture, Puerto Rico had over 5,000 coffee farms that covered 33,213 acres. After Hurricane Maria, the 2018 Census of Agriculture reported a decline to 800 farms covering 5,413 acres.

“Puerto Ricans drink a lot of coffee and the growers don’t produce enough to meet the local market demand,” Robles said. “We don’t have big farms here like they have in Hawai‘i. Most growers in Puerto Rico produce for the local market. There are a few specialty growers who are exporting coffee to the US.”

Pest threatens domestic coffee industry
In August 2010 the coffee berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei) was discovered in the Kona region of Hawai‘i Island.

“Coffee berry borer is the most economically important pest that coffee has worldwide,” Coughlin said. “When it was discovered in south Kona it caused a real concern among coffee growers and researchers. IR-4 and University of Hawai‘i researchers started screening pesticides and biopesticides right away for activity against the borer. We looked at biological products and conventional pesticides that were registered for use that were already available to the growers.

“We conducted trials with the insecticide cyantraniliprole because it was shown to be effective in controlling the coffee berry borer in South America. Also, the registrant was supportive of doing the studies. Having a registrant’s support is always something we consider when choosing which active ingredients to pursue for minor crops.”

In the case of Puerto Rico, the coffee berry borer arrived in 2007. During meetings with University of Puerto Rico researchers, coffee growers expressed their concerns about the pest and the potentially devastating effects in could have on their crops.

The coffee berry borer is considered to be the most devastating insect pest of coffee worldwide. Photo by Fernando Gallardo, Univ. of Puerto Rico.

“In 2011, I started on the IR-4 Project to trial cyantraniliprole to control coffee berry borer,” Robles said. “The residue trials that were conducted at the research station were to support those that were occurring in Hawai‘i.”

Coughlin said both efficacy and residue trials were done in Hawai‘i with cyantraniliprole.

“All of the efficacy trials were done at the University of Hawai‘i’s Kona research station in cooperation with extension agent Andrea Kawabata,” she said. “No growers were involved with the efficacy trials. However, two larger coffee growers were involved with the residue studies. One was located on the island of Kaua‘i and one on Maui. The larger growers have been involved in trials in the past and have been very supportive. We also have coffee plots established at two different research stations on Oahu and do trials there as well.

“All of the trials we do with tropical crops are coordinated with researchers in Puerto Rico so that we can collect results from different growing areas. We collaborate on our priorities as well. Even if we didn’t have any interest in cyantraniliprole in Hawai‘i, we would still conduct the trials to support the Puerto Rican growers. IR-4 researchers in Hawai‘i will also do trials with products that the Puerto Rican growers might not have an innate need for, but the researchers there support us with collaborative studies.”

Taking an integrated control approach
Since the borer spends almost its entire life inside the coffee berry it can be really difficult to control with insecticides alone.

“The extension service in Kona has come up with best management practices for the growers,” Coughlin said. “Andrea Kawabata, the extension agent on Hawai‘i Island, has done a comprehensive analysis of the pest and has been a key resource for all the growers in regards to pest management practices and coordinating research. She put together a control publication (Recommendations for Coffee Berry Borer, Integrated Pest Management in Hawai‘i, 2016) that provides many different kinds of control recommendations. Coffee growers are able to control the borer following this IPM plan, which involves strict sanitation. Cultural practices are integrated with pesticide applications to time the control. By implementing this IPM plan, the growers have been able to reduce the infestations to less than 10 percent.”

Coughlin said growers have a number of pesticides that are labeled for the borer including the biopesticide Beauveria bassiana, which is a natural fungus found in soil.

“Beauveria is a commercially available product, including Mycotrol and BotaniGard,” she said. “This fungus colonizes the borer and ultimately kills it.

By implementing an IPM program that combines cultural practices with pesticide applications, Hawaiian growers have been able to reduce coffee berry borer infestations to less than 10 percent. Photo by Julie Coughlin, Univ. of Hawai‘i.

“Another insecticide Delegate WG (active ingredient spinetoram) is labeled for coffee and was also registered through IR-4 Project. There are two other products that IR-4 researchers are looking at to register for control of the borer. All of the trials have been completed on these products and are progressing toward registration.”

When the borer was introduced into Puerto Rico in 2007 it became a problem and remained a problem through 2012.

“There is a native strain of Beauveria bassiana in Puerto Rico that is helping to control the borer,” Robles said. “Because of this native strain, borer infestations have gone down to 25-30 percent.

“Unfortunately this native strain has not been able to be formulated. The growers are letting Mother Nature do her job and combining the native and commercial strains of Beauveria to control the borer.”

For more: Julie Coughlin, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, CTAHR/PERS Department, Honolulu, HI 96822;; ;

Wilfredo Robles, University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, Department of Agroenvironmental Sciences, IR-4 Field Research Center, Corozal, Puerto Rico 00783-9521; ;

Dr. Fernando Gallardo at the University of Puerto Rico prepared a publication related to the use of integrated pest management to control the coffee berry borer. Gallardo-Covas, F. and O. P. Gonzalez-Cardona. 2015. Manejo Integrado de la Broca del Café en Puerto Rico, Estación Experimental Agrícola, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Mayagüez. This report was submitted to the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture under Financiamiento de la Investigación y el Desarrollo de Tecnología Agrícola y de Alimentos (FITDA), Project Z-FITDA-13.

PR# 10874 Coffee (Coffee Berry Borer)

David Kuack is a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas;