Fighting invasive pests

The macadamia felted coccid.
The macadamia felted coccid. Courtesy of HDOA

Macadamia felted coccid colonize a tree trunk. Courtesy of HDOA.

Hawaii macadamia nut farmers may be getting some help from the federal government in their fight against the destructive macadamia felted coccid (MFC).

The MFC, an insect native to Australia, was inadvertently introduced to the Big Island in 2005. Since then it’s destroyed trees and cost mac nut famers millions of dollars each year.

According to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture profile of the pest :

It gets its name from the felt-like sacs which enclose adult females and pupal cases of males. It distorts and stunts new growth and causes yellow spotting on older leaves. Severe infestations can cause dieback. On bearing trees, nut yields are reduced and a delay is caused in the fall of mature nuts.

After visiting Big Island farms last month, Rep Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) was touched by the stories of growers who were suffering serious losses from the insect. In response, she has introduced the Macadamia Tree Health Initiative, a bill that would authorize research and development to help control the bug.

It would also create an Area-wide Integrated Pest Management (AIPM) plan in affected areas like Kona, Ka’u and Hilo to help manage the pest in an environmentally friendly, cost-effective way.

The Hawaii Farm Bureau and major mac nut growers, who have been trying to get assistance to defeat this scourge over the past several years, applauded the proposal. In 2014, HFB proposed state legislation requesting funding for MFC research that resulted in an appropriation of $360,000. An additional $160,000 was provided by the macadamia industry and HDOA is also helping with funding and research.

The funds are being used by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), which is currently studying the insect’s life history and working on treatment plans. Much-needed federal assistance would complement these current efforts.

More than 620 Hawaii farms cultivate about 18,000 acres of macadamia trees, employing thousands of people and producing some 50 million pounds of nuts annually.

As HDOA noted, the insect can easily spread through the valuable mac nut industry:

After hatching, tiny crawIers move about and are able to disperse by wind or by hitchhiking on birds, people, vehicles, or farm equipment to other areas. After settling down, individuals feed by inserting their needle-like mouthparts into plant tissue and removing sap.

More than 4,300 invasive species, including fruit flies, the little fire ant, the coconut rhinoceros beetle and the coffee berry borer, threaten agriculture in Hawaii and the rest of the nation.

Farmers aren’t the only ones suffering. Controlling the red fire ant is predicted to cost the state an estimated $211 million annually, while an introduction of the brown tree snake could inflict economic damages of $2.14 billion each year.

Despite the gravity of these risks, the state departments of Agriculture, and Land and Natural Resources — the primary state agencies in charge of biosecurity — receive a mere 0.4 percent and 1 percent respectively of the $13.7 billion 2016-2017 state operating budget.

Meanwhile, the amount of air cargo has increased by 34 percent since 2008 and ship cargo by 21 percent.

“It’s time to get elected officials to realize the gravity of these risks,” said state Board of Agriculture Chairman Scott Enright.

In an attempt to stop the spread of invasive species and protect commercial agriculture, state officials are drafting the Hawaii Interagency Biosecurity Plan.

It calls for executing agreements with other jurisdictions to adopt pre-shipping inspections; increasing the number of permanent employees inspecting incoming cargo, including nonagricultural shipments, ship’s hulls and ballast water; implementing new policies and procedures aimed at responding to a pest when it appears; and building an inspection facility on Kauai.

As the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported :

State agricultural officials said they’re looking at a pilot certification and compliance project that would allow nurseries to ship their goods interisland without an inspection.

• Public hearings on the draft plan are being held on each island. You are encouraged to learn more by attending one of the remaining meetings:
• Hilo: 6-8 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 12, Hilo High School Cafeteria, 556 Waianuenue Ave, Hilo
• Kona: 608 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 13 at Kealakehe High School Cafeteria, 74-5000 Puohulihuli St, Kailua-Kona
• Lanai: 9-11 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 15 at Lanai High & Elem School Cafeteria, 555 Fraser Ave, Lanai City

Written comments will be accepted through Oct. 21 and may be submitted via email to Joy DeBruyn at