Coffee Leaf Rust Has Spread to All Major Hawaiian Islands

August 10, 2021Kelly Getzelman
leaf rust

Coffee leaf rust is a devastating coffee-plant disease and is established in all major coffee-growing areas of the world, including the island of Maui. Photo courtesy of the Kapalua Resort via Flickr.

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture confirmed July 20 that coffee leaf rust, or CLR, has now reached the Hawaiian islands of Kauai and Molokai. “The severe coffee plant pathogen has now been found on all major Hawaiian Islands,” according to an HDOA news release.

Coffee leaf rust is a devastating coffee pathogen discovered in Sri Lanka in 1869. It can cause severe coffee-plant defoliation, which leads to significantly reduced photosynthetic capacity.

Depending on the extent of the infection, both the coffee-tree growth and cherry production can be severely affected. One of the long-term effects of CLR is dieback, a symptom of root damage in the coffee trees, which affects the following year’s crop numbers. Crop losses from dieback are estimated to range from 30% to 80%.

A coffee plant in the Hawaiian Islands showing leaf rust spots. Photo courtesy of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture.

The first reports of CLR in the state of Hawaii emerged in October 2020 and affected the islands of Hawaii and Maui. By January of 2021, the disease had spread to the islands of Oahu and Lanai. Initial assessments suggest the pathogen has been on the island of Kauai for at least six months.

After the first CLR detection, the Hawaii Board of Agriculture “approved an interim administrative rule which restricted the movement of coffee plants, plant parts and other CLR hosts from infected islands to try to stop the spread of the disease,” according to the HDOA release. “With the detection of CLR statewide, HDOA is reassessing these restrictions.”

The Environmental Protection Agency recently approved the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s emergency request to allow area coffee growers to use a specific fungicide against the CLR pathogen.

CLR was first detected in the state of Hawaii in October 2020 on the islands of Hawaii and Maui. In January 2021, it was detected on Oahu and Lanai. Photo courtesy of the University of Hawaii.

On Aug. 27, the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii at Manoa will host a live question-and-answer session about coffee leaf rust and its management. The event will take place at the Kula Agricultural Park on the island of Maui.

According to the event’s official website, discussion topics may include CLR biology; the prevention of CLR spread; monitoring and early detection; managing CLR via sanitation, tree and soil health, pruning, and spraying; and informational resources.

The Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Cooperative Extension team provides outreach to farmers for managing coffee pests, diseases, and problems within the state of Hawaii.

Read Next: A Brief History of Trying (in Vain) To Replace Coffee With Chicory

Kelly Getzelman
Kelly Getzelman

Kelly Getzelman is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. A retired Navy SEAL chief petty officer, Getzelman has nearly two decades of special operations experience and is always ready to ship out on his next epic coffee adventure.

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