Drill Beetle Threatens Kona Coffee Inventories

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Premium Coffees North America is still selling Kona coffee through their online store at KonaLuna.com, despite the difficult year for retailers. Coffee trees on the Big Island of Hawaii have been devastated by a drill beetle infestation, at a time when coffee prices have been falling rapidly.

"The trees will grow back and production will bounce back stronger than ever. It's part of the coffee cycle." - Ron Cortez

Kona coffee inventories are unusually low this year, with some grades of high end beans nearly impossible to find. Coffee trees on the Big Island have been devastated by a drill beetle infestation, at a time when coffee prices have been falling rapidly. These conditions are creating a perfect storm for what is sure to be a difficult year in Kona.

    In 2010, Kona coffee farmers began to notice small holes in the beans harvested from certain trees. In September of that year, there was confirmation of what many had feared - the dreaded Coffee borer beetle, Hypothenemus hampei, had made its way to Hawaii.

    The drill beetle, as it is more commonly known, has plagued coffee crops in other parts of the world for many years. Its presence in Hawaii caught many farmers off guard, with awareness only spreading last year.

    "The drill beetle is a difficult pest to eradicate, and requires cutting down the whole tree wherever it is found," said Ron Cortez, a coffee roaster who has encountered the beetle before in Central America. "But the trees will grow back and production will bounce back stronger than ever. It's part of the coffee cycle."

    Customers have just started to see the effects, in the form of higher prices and difficulty finding high end beans. The shortage puts roasters and retailers in a difficult spot, as well. Matt Jallo, the owner of KonaLuna.com, explained "It's been a challenging year but luckily we haven't had to raise our prices like many others have. We do our best to plan for these kinds of things, so that customers are not affected by the month to month fluctuations."

    Despite the present difficulties, there is a strong consensus that the Kona coffee industry will emerge stronger in the end and learn to coexist with the drill beetle like all other major coffee producing regions.

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Kevin Briggs
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