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CBB Workshop
21 February 2011

I am on the board of directors for the Kona Coffee Council and one of the many things I do with the KCC is organize farmer education workshops.  With the Coffee Berry Borer (CBB) being a big issue in the Kona coffee community, it was time to have a workshop on the subject.  This certainly wasn't the first workshop about the CBB nor will it be the last.

As a full time Kona coffee farmer, I've heard almost nothing but talk about this little beetle for six months now.  However, there are still a lot of part time farmers and homeowners in the area that have coffee trees but aren't necessarily aware of the problems CBB can cause.  Reaching this community was the main goal of this most recent workshop.

CBB trap The workshop concentrated on trap building.  Traps are only one part of an overall CBB management plan.  The primary purpose of traps isn't so much to control the pest but rather to act as a first alert so other measures can be taken.  It's possible to visually inspect a field but if the infestation is light, it's easy to miss the tiny little holes that the bug makes in the coffee cherry.  Traps are a much better way to know how big the local CBB population is.

There is some concern that the traps will attract the bugs into an otherwise uninfected field.  This is not likely.  The CBB is a very small beetle and prefers to crawl.  When it does fly it has relatively huge wings but not a lot of control.  The bug gets up into the wind currents and can be carried quite a distance.  That is very different than seeing a target and successfully flying to it.  Either way, I want to know if me or my neighbors have CBB problems and strategically placed traps will show that.

The traps are very simple and can be easily made out of an old milk jug, soda bottle or just about any other container.  Methanol bait is used to attract the bugs to the trap.  A little soapy water in the bottom of the trap is all that is needed to catch and kill the bugs.  The soapy water is easy; it's the methanol bait that is a little more difficult to find.

Ethanol, or grain alcohol, is what we drink.  Methanol, or wood alcohol, is toxic and used for things like race car fuel, camp stoves, solvents or as a denaturant.  Methanol occurs naturally, is produced by bacteria, and is even present in the atmosphere.  Despite being natural, it can easily kill you.  A couple teaspoons can cause blindness and a few ounces can be fatal.  That's not much.  The fumes can be dangerous too because it's easy to get a dangerous dose without really smelling it.  Methanol can be handled safely as long as you don't drink it, take a bath in it or inhale the fumes.  Oh, and it's highly explosive, so no smoking.

Holes After a quick safety talk, and a short discussion about the CBB in general, we discussed the beauveria bassiana fungus.  It is a naturally occurring fungus that can attack and kill the CBB.  Hopefully, by the time you read this, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture will have approved it's use as a commercial pesticide for coffee.  As we just saw with methanol, being natural does not mean something is safe.  With such a long history of invasive pests being introduced by well-meaning humans, I'm happy to give the government a little time to approve things through official channels.  Government approval certainly doesn't make things safe either, but in my opinion that's better than no regulation at all.

In addition to traps and the bassiana fungus, another important control measure is "cleaning the trees."  The idea is to remove the bugs' food source.  That means stripping every single coffee bean off the tree: ripe, unripe or raisin.  If there are beans on the ground, they need to be removed too.  Needless to say, this is a laborious and expensive operation.  Still, compared to the amount of damage the CBB can cause, the extra cost is well justified.

I think the workshop was a success.  The Kona Coffee Council spent a lot of money on advertising.  In exchange there was a fantastic turnout.  The press even showed up.  Besides being able to see my name in the paper, it was great to see a quote from one of the attendees who said he learned a lot and was going to go home and share the information with his neighbors.  Perfect!  Mission accomplished.

If you're in Kona and have coffee trees of your own but missed the workshop, here is the newspaper article complete with instructions on how to build your own trap.  Click on the picture for a larger, more legible version.  Of course you can also find plenty of information on the Internet.  Here are a few helpful links:

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