Steve Conaway’s Summer 2011 trip to USDA-ARS in Hilo, Hawaii

Posted: January 1, 2012

In the summer of 2011 Steve had a rare opportunity to present his research at two conferences in the Hawaiian islands. Because of his interest in tropical agriculture and plant pathology he arranged to spend the month between the two conferences as a visiting scholar at the USDA-ARS Pacific Basin Agriculture Research Center in Hilo. He gained insights into a variety of interesting research projects being conducted by the USDA, Forest Service, and University of Hawai'i.
Collecting beetle traps from an experimental tea planting

Collecting beetle traps from an experimental tea planting

Having spent 2001 working on coffee farms in Hawai'i he looked forward to returning and learning about other crops in the diverse Hawaiian agricultural markets and the unique problems they face.  While previously exploring the island he also developed a deep appreciation for the endemic flora of Hawai'i.  Through contacts at the University of Hawai'i and US Forest Service he was able see some of the emerging invasive pests that are further threatening native species.

The USDA-ARS research station in Hilo is tasked with investigating pest control and crop genetics for tropical agriculture.  They also develop quarantine strategies and technologies to prevent the post-harvest movement of tropical pests with quarantine requirements.  Steve helped with projects involving fruit fly management, disease identification in novel crops, and tracking the spread of invasive pathogens such as Puccinia psidii, "guava rust" in native Hawaiian forests.

One lesson from working with the USDA was the importance of science researchers communicating their work with the public.  This point is especially relevant for biological control research much like Steve is conducting.  Pushback from a skeptical public has halted ongoing research and stopped biocontrol releases from gaining approval in Hawai’i.  Anecdotes about misguided releases of generalist organisms on the island in combination with a mistrust of government and scientists have led to a skepticism surrounding biological control programs.  In the midst of negative public feedback releases of biocontrol agents has declined despite an increased rate of invasive species introductions to the island.  From his experiences with these Hawaiian projects and related research on scientific communication he put together a presentation on the importance of engaging the public for the Global Food Security and Plant Biosecurity Symposium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.