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EPA approves fungicide to fight coffee leaf rust in Hawaii

coffee leaf rust

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the Hawaiian Department of Agriculture’s (HDOA) request to utilise fungicide to combat coffee leaf rust, a disease that effects plant pathogens.

The fungicide, Priaxor Xemium, is not currently labelled by the EPA for specific use on coffee plants, but has been used to control fungi on other crops such as leafy vegetables, strawberries, and soybeans.

In March 2021, the HDOA filed a request to the EPA for a specific exemption to allow the use of the fungicide on coffee plants. The request was approved on 19 May.

Coffee growers now have an emergency exemption to use the fungicide for up to one year or until use on coffee plants is added to the product label by the EPA and the producer.

“Hawaii coffee growers now have an added method to combat coffee leaf rust which is extremely difficult to manage,” says Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, Chairperson of the Hawaiian Board of Agriculture.

“Other efforts to minimise the damage and spread of coffee leaf rust include quarantines on the movement of coffee plants and associated material, the import of disease-resistant coffee plants and the development of integrated pest management strategies,” says Shimabukuro-Geiser.

The fungicide exemption allows coffee growers to use the fungicide under the conditions:
• Growers must inform the Pesticides Branch at least seven days prior to using the product by emailing sec18@hawaii.gov.
• Personal protective equipment must be worn as required by the label.
• All directions on both the container label, as well as the dealer provided Section 18 label, must be followed.
• All use/application must be reported to HDOA’s Pesticides Branch within 10 days of application.

HDOA and the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources hosted two webinars across April that were designed to inform coffee growers on the use of Priaxor Xemium. Two additional webinars are planned for June.

The fungus responsible for the leaf rust is Hemileia vastatrix, which causes plant defoliation, reduced photosynthesis abilities, and reduced vegetation and berry growth.

According to a study released on coffee leaf rust, it is “the most economically important coffee disease in the world”, found in almost every coffee-growing region globally.

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