Thu | Apr 2, 2015

Coffee leaf rust threatens industry

Published:Saturday | December 15, 2012

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

THE LOCAL coffee industry is facing a serious threat from the coffee leaf rust, a disease caused by the fungus (Hemileia vastatrix) and which is one of the most potentially devastating threats to the coffee industry worldwide. Preliminary estimates project that, if left unchecked, the outbreak could cost an estimated US$4.2 million in export earnings, affecting 30 per cent of the current crop.

However, the Coffee Industry Board (CIB) and the Jamaica Agricultural Society are working with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to help farmers identify the treat of the disease. Coffee farmers are advised to examine their trees now for the disease which is characterised by a round, yellow, powdery spots on the underside of affected leaves.

The fungus kills the section of the leaf on which it grows, resulting in premature leaf fall which compromises the tree's ability to produce carbohydrates. With the roots and shoots starved of plant food due to leaf fall and the berries using up the carbohydrates, this will eventually lead to a reduction in the number of bearing nodes and therefore a reduction in crop production.

The agriculture ministry will be making available 2,500 kilograms of copper-based fungicide valued at J$1.7 million to dealers to deal with the disease. This will be distributed through the CIB which is slated to receive the donation next week.

While the coffee leaf rust disease is not new to Jamaica, the CIB has described the latest outbreak as "larger than usual" in the Blue Mountain and High Mountain coffee growing regions over the past six months. According to the CIB, it is more widespread and aggressive in nature with outbreaks detected in Portland, St Thomas and some areas in St Andrew, Manchester, St Catherine and Clarendon.

Farmers are being urged to examine coffee trees now and assess the level of threat, since rust infection builds up between September and November and peaks between December and March.