Federal resources sought in fighting avocado lace bug

  • The avocado lace bug poses the latest threat to the island’s crop. (Photo courtesy/Hawaii Department of Agriculture)

  • Varieties of avocados are susceptible to the lace bug recently identified on Hawaii Island. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz on Thursday requested federal resources for Hawaii farmers affected by the avocado lace bug, which was recently identified on Hawaii Island.

Schatz, in a press release, said he called on Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to provide immediate support to help control and eradicate the invasive avocado lace bug. He requested “immediate federal resources,” and asked that the Department of Agriculture to help develop effective controls to help save avocado trees.

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“This pest is a direct threat to Hawaii’s avocado crops, valued at roughly $1.6 million,” Schatz wrote in his letter to Perdue. “The time has come to consider a more formal arrangement, with additional resources to provide the support Hawaii needs against invasive pests.”

Avocado lace bug (Pseudacysta perseae) was first detected in Pearl City, Oahu, in December 2019 and was subsequently identified on Hawaii Island and in plants infested at retail outlets on Maui — the plants were destroyed or treated, the state Department of Agriculture announced late last week.

The bug feeds on the leaves of avocado plants and extracts nutrients from foliage, sucking the life out of it and causing gradual destruction of the leaves, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Uncontrolled, leaves become dry, may curl, drop prematurely and may cause reduction in fruit yields.

The avocado lace bug was described in Florida in the early 1900s and has spread through the southeastern U.S. and into California. It is also found in the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Portugal. It has not been determined how the lace bug was introduced in Hawaii, according to agriculture officials.

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Hawaii avocado production was estimated at 17.4 million pounds for the 2018-19 season, up 12% from the previous season, according to data compiled in January by the Department of Agriculture. The value of the crop was estimated at nearly $1.6 million.

Hawaii is the third largest producer of avocado in the United States, according to the department. More than 200 varieties of avocado are grown across the state, including the Sharwil variety, which is typically grown for commercial production and exported out of state.

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