Hawaii's macadamia nut farms battle tiny pest

By Lara Yamada
Published On: May 20 2014 07:11:52 PM HST
Updated On: May 20 2014 07:16:01 PM HST

A tiny pest is turning into a major problem for macadamia nut growers on the Big Island. Now controlling the "Macadamia Felted Coccid" has become a top priority.

HILO, Hawaii -

Macadamia nut growers on the Big Island have been battling it for years, but now a tiny pest is turning into a major problem.

Click here to watch Lara Yamada's report.

"It's begun to spread and multiply exponentially," said Chris Manfredi.

It's been several years since the Macadamia Felted Coccid first appeared in Hawaii. Those powdery dots peppering trees, the insect saps the tree from nut to root.

"It's a small, little bug, but it just destroys the trees. It eats the leaves. It eats the bark," said Manfredi.
Last year, the Felted Coccid and the dry weather did $3.7 million in damage to one company's crops.

"It's not only affecting the nut, but it's pretty much affecting pretty much every stage of growth on the tree. You see it on the trunk of the tree. You see it on the leaves, all the branches and they even coat the nuts as well," said Bonnie Schoneberg of Royal Hawaiian Orchards.

In 2012 a fire had devastated parts of Randy Cabral's mac nut trees, or what's now called Royal Hawaiian Orchards. It was the floods of 2000 before that.

"This is not the first disaster to hit us. So, I hope it's the last, but I doubt that," said Cabral.

"During the dry season the scale population is so high and also the chemicals are not working, so they are looking for another solution," said entomologist Dr. Mohsen Ramadan of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

Now, Ramadan thinks he may have found it. Meet Encyrtidae Metaphycus.

"A very tiny, small wasp; it's like the size of a grain of sand," said Ramadan.

The wasp is native to Australia, like the Mac Nut. It injects its larvae into the Felted Coccid, which then feasts on the crop from the inside out.

Ramadan says they're already being re-produced here and they're hoping for field tests next year. A possible solution for what's now become a devastating pest.

"We're on eggshells sometimes just watching and waiting for the next problem," said Manfredi.

Ramadan says top experts and state leaders will be flying to the Big Island in June to meet with growers, talk about their findings and the best methods to control the problem.

Lawmakers passed a bill this legislative session allotting $360,000 to study prevention treatment of the Macadamia Felted Coccid.

Experts say that's a start.

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