Diagnosing Coffee Leaf Rust & Slowing Its Spread

Year Awarded  2021

FFAR award amount   $150,000

Total award amount   $431,103

Location   Hilo, HI

Program   Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research

Matching Funders   Hawaii Coffee Association, Hawaii Coffee Growers Association, Hawaii Department of Agriculture, Maui Coffee Association, Purdue University, Synergistic Hawaii Agriculture Council and United Ka’u Farmers Cooperative

Importance of Breakthrough

Coffee leaf rust disease has decimated coffee production in Latin America since 2011. Its recent spread to Hawaii threatens the livelihoods of almost 1,500 coffee farmers in Hawaii. With FFAR funding, the Synergistic Hawaii Agriculture Council investigated the devastating disease and developed mitigation tactics.

Details about this breakthrough

Researchers, led by Dr. Catherine Aime, quickly surveyed coffee farms across Hawaii, gathering information about the severity of the disease and what conditions are favorable to its spread. The research team developed a real-time diagnostic tool that farmers and others used to rapidly detect coffee leaf rust on-farm. The team used genomic tools to identify the exact variant of coffee leaf rust, a necessary first step in developing a targeted response that included resistant coffee varieties. The team also tested different fungicides for efficacy and partnered with extension staff to optimize sanitation protocols and disseminate them to farmers, helping to reduce coffee leaf rust’s spread.

University of Hawaii extension workers and faculty shared the information and research results generated through this FFAR grant with farmers through 83 “farm doctor” visits and 66 industry and stakeholder events. This outreach provided Hawaii’s coffee growers with the most up-to-date disease control measures. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture subsequently awarded the research team a Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) grant to continue this important work.

When the devastating coffee leaf rust fungus arrived in late 2020, Hawaii growers had no resources on the ground. FFAR was the first to provide funding for research, technical and extension support. Within weeks, their Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research grant was in place. The data collected created the framework for on-farm activities now. Coffee growers, farmworkers and downstream industries depending on Hawaii coffee have all benefited economically from this work. Suzanne Shriner
Director, Synergistic Hawaii Agriculture Council