Maui News

State Seeks EPA Exemption for Hawaiʻi Coffee Farmers Battling Damaging Fungus

March 17, 2021, 1:27 PM HST
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Coffee leaf rust is a fungus that devastates coffee plants. Photo Courtesy: Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture


The Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture today filed a request for a specific exemption from the US Environmental Protection Agency to allow Hawaiʻi coffee growers to use a fungicide to help manage coffee leaf rust, a fungus that is a serious threat to Hawaiʻi’s $56 million coffee industry.

The fungicide, Priaxor Xemium, is not labeled by the EPA for specific use on coffee plants, but it is allowed for use to control fungi on leafy vegetables, strawberries, tomatoes, soybeans, wheat and many other crops. The manufacturer of the fungicide notified the Department of Agriculture last week that they support the review by EPA on the use of the product on coffee plants, according to a news release.

Any use of Priaxor Xemium would not be allowable until EPA reviews and approves the application, which could take up to 45 days. If the exemption is approved, the fungicide may be used for up to one year or until use on coffee plants is added to the product label by EPA and the product’s producer.

“Coffee leaf rust is a plant pathogen that cannot be eradicated once it takes hold so it’s important that we use all available tools, including the use of fungicides, to help manage the problem,” said Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, chairperson of the Hawaiʻi Board of Agriculture. “We ask all those who have coffee plants to survey their plants and report possible infections so various management strategies may be implemented to minimize the impact on our important coffee industry.”

A multi-agency effort including the Department of Agriculture, University of Hawaiʻi’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, the USDA Daniel K. Inouye Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center and the Hawaiʻi coffee industry have been ramping up efforts to battle the disease on several fronts.

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In November 2020, the Department of Agriculture implemented Interim Rule 20-1 that restricts the interisland movement of coffee plants, plant parts and other coffee-associated materials from Maui and Hawaiʻi Island. The Board has tentatively scheduled a virtual meeting for March 23 to consider expanding the infested areas to include Lanaʻi and Oʻahu and implementing the same restrictions on the movement of coffee plants, plant parts and other coffee-associated materials.

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Coffee growers and roasters have been notified by HDOA’s Plant Quarantine Branch that the issue will be up for discussion and consideration by the Board. Board meeting agendas are posted at least six days prior to the meeting on the State of Hawaiʻi Public Meeting calendar at: https://calendar.ehawaii.gov/calendar/ and at HDOA’s website at: http://hdoa.hawaii.gov/meetings-reports/

Other efforts to address the coffee leaf rust infestations include importing disease-resistant coffee plants, developing integrated pest management strategies, best management practices and requesting the use of Priaxor Xemium. A collaborative outreach program also was coordinated, including radio public service announcements and informational posters.

In February 2021, Governor Ige declared that an emergency exists to Hawaiʻi’s coffee industry due to the effects of coffee leaf rust. This declaration allowed organic coffee growers to file a request to the National Organic Certification Program to allow them to utilize non-organic products, such as Priaxor Xemium, and maintain their organic status. 

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Coffee leaf rust is a devastating coffee pathogen and was first discovered in Sri Lanka in 1869 and can cause severe defoliation of coffee plants resulting in greatly reduced photosynthetic capacity. Depending on prevalence in a given year, both vegetative and berry growth are greatly reduced.  There are multiple long-term impacts of the fungus, including dieback, resulting in an impact to the following year’s crop, with estimated losses ranging from 30 percent to 80 percent. 

Suspected coffee leaf rust infestations should be reported to HDOA’s Plant Pest Control Branch at (808) 973-9525.

For more information about Priaxor Xemium use under the EPA exemption, please contact your local Pesticides Branch office at:

  • Kauai: 808-241-7140
  • Oahu: 808-973-9402
  • Maui County: 808-873-3078
  • Hawaii: 808-974-4143

For more information on CLR and the Hawaii coffee industry, go to:

  • Coffee Education Website – UH-CTAHR: https://www.hawaiicoffeeed.com/
  • HDOA Coffee Leaf Rust Advisory: https://hdoa.hawaii.gov/pi/files/2021/01/NPA-20-03-Coffee-leaf-rust1-21.pdf
  • CLR Field Guide: https://hdoa.hawaii.gov/pi/files/2020/12/CLR-Public-field-guide-with-form11-20.pdf
  • 2020-2021 Hawai`i Coffee Season Statistics (National Agricultural Statistics Service): https://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Hawaii/Publications/Fruits_and_Nuts/Coffee-01-26-2021.pdf.

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