Coffee leaf rust has been one of the largest scourges to Hawaiian coffee producers in the last couple of year, as the fungus that causes the disease has now been found on every island where coffee is produced. But help is on the way. Thanks to a grant from the US government, $6 million will be invested in researching coffee leaf rust in American territories that could hopefully have a global impact.
Announced Friday, October 29th, the four-year, $6 million grant was issued by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture as part of their Specialty Crop Research Initiative that will “support coordinated research to address the threat of coffee leaf rust for coffee farmers in Hawaii and Puerto Rico,” per the press release. The grant is broken down into five main objectives: field trials of rust-resistant coffee varieties, survey spread and identifying management options for already existing trees, identifying fungicides and biological control methods, economic analysis of US-grown coffees for both growers and retailers, and expanding genomic research of Hemileia vastatrix, the fungus that causes leaf rust.
To this end, per the press release, a portion of the grant will go to further expand Professor Catherine Aime of Purdue University’s work on mapping the H. vastatrix genome, which will include developing new methods to identify different rust races. This could, in turn, lead to better management strategies for dealing with leaf rust as well as aid in “optimally deploying rust-resistant varieties in the field.”
In the short term, the grant will allow for farmers in Hawaii and Puerto Rico to test growing rust-resistant varieties that have had success elsewhere. “Testing these international varieties give our growers a leg up on finding long-term solutions that work in the field,” states Synergistic Hawaii Agriculture Council and coffee farmer Suzanne Shriner. “And in the immediate term, applied research will help maintain non-resistant tree health and support the agricultural economies of our islands.”