Schatz Calls For Federal Resources To Fight Growing Invasive Pest Threatening Avocado Crops Across Hawai‘i

Hawai‘i Is The Third Largest Producer Of Avocados In The United States

HONOLULU – Today, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) called on Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to provide immediate support to help control and eradicate the invasive avocado lace bug that is threatening Hawai‘i farmers. Schatz requested immediate federal resources for Hawai‘i famers affected by the pest, and asked the Department of Agriculture to develop effective controls to help save avocado trees.

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

In 2018, Hawai‘i produced more than 870 tons of avocados, making it the third largest producer in the country behind California and Florida. Producers grow many varieties of avocado throughout the state, with nearly 200 varieties known.

The avocado lace bug (Pseudacysta perseae) is found throughout the southeastern U.S. and California. It was first detected in Pearl City, Oahu, in December 2019. It was later identified on Hawai‘i Island and in plants at retail outlets on Maui. It has not been determined how the bug was introduced to Hawai‘i.

The full text of the letter follows. A PDF copy is available here.

Dear Secretary Perdue:

I am writing to request your intervention on the avocado lace bug (Pseudacysta perseae), which has recently been discovered on O‘ahu, Maui, and Hawai‘i Island.  This pest is a direct threat to Hawai‘i’s avocado crop, valued at roughly $1.6 million in 2019 by the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture.  USDA’s help will also give other Hawai‘i farmers better confidence that when invasive pests emerge in the future, USDA will be there.  Finally, solving Hawai‘i’s avocado lace beetle problem helps mainland growers by reducing the chance of having the beetle spread, and by testing control techniques.  

To provide immediate assistance, I request help from the Farm Service Agency to proactively contact Hawai‘i’s avocado growers and help them apply for any available aid for farmers who have lost crops.  I also request the assistance of the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center (PBARC) to develop effective controls to help Hawai‘i’s farmers to save their avocado trees.

This is the third time I have written to you about invasive pests that threaten Hawai‘i’s agricultural production.  Together, the Queensland longhorn beetle (Acalolepta aesthetica), the two-lined spittlebug (Prosapia bicincta), and the avocado lace beetle (Pseudacysta perseae), show the continuous pressure Hawai‘i’s farmers and ranchers face from invasive pests.  To provide Hawai‘i agriculture the assistance it needs, federal scientists must work together in partnership with the State of Hawai‘i and the University of Hawai‘i.   

I reiterate my request to meet with you to discuss how we can better integrate the efforts of your Department’s outstanding scientists at PBARC and the Institute of Pacific Island Forestry with those at the University of Hawai‘i and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Pacific Island Ecosystem Research Center.  While I understand and appreciate the informal collaboration of these institutions on the ground, I believe the time has come to consider a more formal arrangement, with additional resources to provide the support Hawai‘i needs against invasive pests.

Sincerely,

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