July 17, 2019
Home < Coffee Berry Borer < The CBB Blues – by Jason & Kollette Stith

The CBB Blues – by Jason & Kollette Stith

It’s harvest time in Kona folks.  Time to walk the orchard and watch those first beans changin’ color, creepin’ towards red.  Is it too early to call in the pickers? , you ask yourself.  Should I pick this round myself?  Why didn’t I fix up the drying deck in the off season, cause now there’s no time to spare.

Except this year you walk out and you aren’t thinking those typical harvest season thoughts.  Now instead of a nervous anticipation of the busy fall harvest, you are just plain nervous.  you’ve got a bad, bad feeling.  A hollow, empty feeling that makes you a little sick and a little sad and more than a little worried.   You’ve got the CBB blues.  That little critter that you never even heard of til a year ago has snuck in the back door and found your  coffee and made  a mess of things.   Now your thinkin’  “what the hell is going to happen next?”  Should I spray? Set out traps?  Cut it all down and wait til next year.  Get another job?  Will I lose all my coffee?  Will I lose all my money?  Well lucky for you most farmers don’t have much money so you don’t have too far to fall there.    But what we don’t want to see is people losing their farms  or going out of coffee production permanently.  The good news is that, judging from what I see on my farm, I don’t think that is going to happen.

We are down here in southern south kona , halfway to nowhere and a long way from anywhere else and for some unknown reason this is where the berry borer got started in Hawaii.  I can’t figure it out.  But , sad to say, it was a sample from my coffee last year that confirmed the borer had made it to Hawaii.  Last August as I watched my early cherry rot rather than ripen. I got worried. I felt bad. Real bad.  I sent in my sample to Honolulu. I saw pictures of the borer online.  I remembered from my time in El Salvador the worried farmers there  talking about “la broca”.  And I noticed all the pinholes in all the coffee all over my farm.

We went from 28,000 and 24,000 lbs of cherry the previous two seasons, to about 6,000 lbs of cherry with the borer and most of that was off grade junk.  Our green coffee total was down 80% from the previous two years.  I just read my notes from the first pick of last year and I wrote “ It’s basically all bad coffee.”

Well my wife and I just picked our little first round this year and guess what?  It looks great!  It looks and smells like real coffee!  It seems like forever since we’d seen beautiful cherry, it was uplifting to see it again.
And what did we do to escape the scourge this year?  Did we put our noses and backs to the grindstone and do everything possible under the sun to eliminate this plague from our farm?  Well folks, our noses already were to the grindstone and my back already aches and so does the rest of my body.  So we did what little we could and that’s it.   We set out the traps but never refilled them.  Nothing much ever landed in them on our farm anyway.  (On my neighbor’s farm they caught tons.) I bought that beast of a blower from farm and Garden and a bunch of the fungus and got through three-quarters of the farm. ( In my mind I’ve sprayed it about a dozen times).  I pruned heavy last year and chipped up everything.  And that’s about it.

So where did the borer go?  I don’t really have an answer.  You can look at it as a predator/prey relationship with the fungus as the predator.  The prey population (the  CBB) explodes and then the predator population explodes to devour this new quantity of food …causing the prey population to then all but disappear.  A bit of a roller coaster, but maybe… Maybe the borer is sensitive to the vog?!It’s hard to say.

Adjacent to us we have two working coffee farms and three abandoned farms.  I checked out the trees at my neighbor’s  (he has sprayed twice) and his coffee looks great too.  I checked some of the wild coffee and could hardly see any borer. ( last year it was riddled with it) Our farm did get stung on the first flowering this year, but we have a huge natural population of the B bassiniana fungus already established on the farm.   So all those damaged beans show the white fungus at the entramce hole of the borer.  All the borer that I can find is dead.  There is no borer climbing out of the picking baskets. There is none alive in the float tank or in the pulp.  Now I am not naïve, I know there is some alive somewhere so I am burying my pulp and doing everything I can do to be sanitary and I will keep spraying but this year is looking much brighter than the last.  It looks like we are still coffee farmers after all.

Just remember that when people sing the blues it’s to release that burden of woe and despair they might be carrying and to feel good despite what ever the world is throwing at them.  So if you’ve got the CBB blues this year  find some Albert King or Nina Simone  to listen to, drink a cold beer if it helps,  square your shoulders and do what you need to do to clean up the mess that has been dumped on your farm  and get ready for the next season, which I am hopeful will be much more inspiring.