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Hawaii Agricultural Research Center Gets $1.37 Million Leaf Rust Grant


Spots indicative of coffee leaf rust disease on a coffee plant in Hawaii. November 2020 photo from the Hawaii Board of Agriculture.

The nonprofit Hawaii Agricultural Research Center (HARC) has been awarded a $1.37 million federal grant to combat coffee leaf rust, the leaf-killing disease that has spread throughout the Hawaiian islands.

The grant comes from the Specialty Crop Research Initiatives (SCRI) program of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

According to an announcement from U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono, the funding will be used to revitalize HARC’s coffee breeding program, “in an effort to produce coffee with CLR resistance.”

foe of the global coffee sector since the 1800s, coffee leaf rust is a fast-spreading, leaf-killing disease caused by the fungus Hemileia Vastatrix that typically results in crop losses of 70% or more on infected plots.

After impairing coffeelands throughout Mexico, Central America and South America beginning in 2012 and causing often insurmountable losses to farmers, the disease was discovered in Hawaii for the first time in 2020. By July of 2021, it had been discovered on all of Hawaii’s major islands.

“Since its discovery in Hawaii in 2020, Coffee Leaf Rust has been a threat to one of our most important local agricultural industries,” Hirono said in an announcement of the new funding. “This funding is crucial in supporting the work being done in Hawaii to combat coffee leaf rust and save an industry that generates hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity each year. I am glad that the USDA is continuing to provide necessary resources to address CLR and I’ll continue working to support farmers across our state.”

The USDA last year issued a four year, $6 million grant for a coordinated research effort focused on combating leaf rust in Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

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