How much the program will cost and how it will roll out remains uncertain.

The Department of Agriculture is throwing its support behind the snouts and appetites of hogs, banking on their ability to eradicate the coconut rhinoceros beetle population on Oahu. 

Pigs will be deployed as part of a grander plan that includes the installation of green waste transfer stations, which will be used to bait the beetles because of their propensity to breed in mulch.

Once they bed down, the hogs will be deployed to sniff them out and eat them.

DOA Director Sharon Hurd has dubbed the scheme as “Plan B” for the almost decade-long fight to control the beetle, which has the ability to decimate coconut palm populations.

Adam Lee Bronson Calpito pigs consume eat coconut rhinoceros beetle grubs North Shore Stables root mulch piles
A troop of five pigs root around for coconut rhinoceros beetle larvae at North Shore Stables, which the Department of Agriculture is pinning its hopes on, to help eradicate the beetles. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Eradication efforts have been underway since the beetle arrived on Oahu in late 2013, successfully containing the population on Oahu until last month when beetle larvae was discovered on Kauai. 

At a demonstration at North Shore Stables in Waialua Wednesday, five pigs set upon a mulch pile infested with approximately 150 beetle larvae. The pigs rooted out and ate all but 11 larvae within 20 minutes.

That is proof of concept for a small group of North Shore farmers who want to be part of the solution to the rhinoceros beetle problem, one imperiling a key Hawaiian crop.

“Just like a fly bag that attracts flies, we will attract CRB,” Adam Lee, owner of North Shore Stables, said.

Adam Lee Bronson Calpito pigs consume eat coconut rhinoceros beetle grubs North Shore Stables root mulch piles
Adam Lee and Bronson Calpito of North Shore Stables watch their pigs consume a mulch pile laden with coconut rhinoceros beetle grubs. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Lee reached out to DOA about a month ago to see if it was interested in partnering to find an alternative solution because the destructive beetles threaten more than just coconut trees.

“Mulch is the key to farming. If all the mulch gets infested then we’ve got a food problem,” Lee said.

Hurd says that while previous eradication and control efforts have been commendable and have provided crucial information, the pigs were a potential additional solution.

“The idea is to break the life cycle,” Hurd said.

The mostly nocturnal beetles breed in mulch, drawn to the conditions provided by the green waste. Coconut trees are also going to be placed around green waste sites to further entice the insects.

  • ‘Hawaii Grown’ Special Series

Efforts thus far that have included sniffer dogs, pesticides and herbicides, traps and drones have been almost entirely funded by the federal government and conducted by the University of Hawaii.

“It’s now on Kauai and we need to try something else,” Hurd said. “And this is our something else.”

The idea is to create a long-term collaboration between the community, the state and farmers, according to Daniel Anthony of the agriculture nonprofit Hui Aloha Aina Momona.

The method is also more environmentally friendly than pesticides, Anthony says.

“Some people think we’re crazy. I feel like this an opportunity for agriculture to solve more issues than just hunger,” Anthony said at the demonstration Wednesday. “Can you imagine Hawaii without coconut trees?”

Meanwhile, state lawmakers finally kicked in some money during this year’s legislative session, setting aside two $1 million tranches for work to address the beetle population.

Adam Lee Bronson Calpito pigs consume eat coconut rhinoceros beetle grubs North Shore Stables root mulch piles
The pigs root through mulch piles and eat the coconut rhinoceros beetle larvae that thrive in green waste, like mulch. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Green waste management programs would receive $1 million and the CRB response effort would receive $1 million.

How that money will be disbursed remains uncertain because the contracts will be subject to a competitive bidding process.

No financial commitments have been made by the DOA to the swine-driven solution, Hurd says.

“We are aligned, just not fiscally,”Hurd said.

Lee says a more concrete plan for the pigs and transfer stations will come next month.

The price of their program is yet to be announced too. “Without giving a hard number, it’s pretty low,” Lee said.

But the farms’ pigs are already available to help clear out hotspots, and can be made available through the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Response team, Lee says.

Hawaii Grown” is funded in part by grants from the Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.

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