Photo credit: Dr. Kenneth M. Beck. South Kona Coast above Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Site. The uniqueness of Kona arabica coffees comes from the volcanic soils, the traditional planting methods, small plots, and in the words of a Royal Kona Coffee professional, “the total natural environment, speciation, and symbiosis of the region.” Here, primary and healthy plants are cut and new shoots are allowed to grow from them. This is an older technique to increase the coffee bean production per branch and minimize the height of the plant. It has also proven a successful means to begin the fight against Root Knot nematode – a new coffee pest in Hawai`i – naturally by replanting in uninfected areas. The volcanic rock and soil are rough and also fine grained. Sometimes boring a hole in basalt is undertaken and trunks and shoot are re-planted in solid rock. Not sure of the symbiosis played by the wrecked pick-up truck (lower right in photo), but perhaps no one seems willing to find out, so it stays put.
Photo credit: Dr. Kenneth M. Beck. A coffee plant in South Kona: green coffee beans on top with a couple of what are known as unpicked “cherries” or ripe, red, coffee beans.
I spent the past week, 27MAR-03APR19, studying arabica coffee; walking past fields of Kona coffee trees; talking to a dozen folks about coffee; growing 5 plants I bought at the Green Market across the street from my hotel in their 3″ pots for 4 days (2 plants actually grew new leaf buds during that time from the top). I had to leave the plants in Kona, as it would be wrong legally and somewhat morally to bring them off-island.
Photo credit: Dr. Kenneth M. Beck. My 5 plants purchased at the Green Market in Capt. Cook, left behind and growing with new shoots.
Photo credit: Dr. Kenneth M. Beck. Drinking coffee from my 50th Anniversary Apollo XI, “Back To The Moon. On To Mars” 16 oz. cup. It turns out, as you walk down Highway 11, there is a coffee farm/shop every 16 oz. cup of coffee at my drinking rate. Like the famed towel of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, always have your coffee cup with you.
I learned a few things. First, most coffee farmers in South Kona, off Highway 11, are small plot producers. Maybe 2 acres; maybe 4 acres cultivated in coffee. This is possible, because of the price high quality Kona arabica coffee commands, and because of the remoteness and romantic cast to Kona Coffee. It has a reputation of being consistent and well-balanced among coffee-drinkers. I talked to many coffee field workers who were now becoming Uber and Lyft drivers to make ends meet with the shortening of the Kona Coffee season in 2018-2019. The locally-owned general store, Oshima, remains open and active, but as in every agriculturally-threatened area, rumours fly in the South Kona Community.
Google Maps: From Mauka (NE top) to Makai (SW bottom) of the South Kona Coast. A brown line winds itself through the middle of the photo. That’s the two-lane Highway 11 as it moves traffic from one community to another. I was fortunate to walk over 10 miles of that highway, studying coffee.
Yield and profits down, prices up after coffee season cut short
KAILUA-KONA — “Coffee season ended abruptly, some two months earlier than usual, for West Hawaii farmers. While causation is likely multi-faceted and open to debate, the consequences creep closer to certainties.
“Yield for 2018 will drop significantly from average levels, which will create a seller’s market and push prices upward, though likely not high enough to offset hits to bottom lines across the region.
“Suzanne Shriner, president of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, said anecdotal evidence generated from member reports points to as high as a 30 percent dip in yield for many local farmers.
“Armando Rodriguez, proprietor of the King’s Cup 100% Kona Coffee brand, sells both green and roasted products. One of the farms he works in Kealakekua was expected to pull down 40,000 pounds this season.
“His adjusted projection Monday was that pickers would harvest around 16,000 pounds, a yield reduction of 60 percent.
“Even working with better prices, sellers will have a tough time beating the numbers. While Shriner believes the price of green beans will push to around $18 per pound, which she said is “approaching record levels,” the market rate for cherry is expected to remain relatively flat.
“That’s probably up about $1 a pound from last year,” Shriner said of the expected price of green. “But if you figure that we’re (down) 30 percent yield, and the price is going up not even 10 percent, there’s still a pretty big difference for the farmers.”
“And the cherry price is the same as last year,” she added. “For people who don’t sell green coffee, all they’re seeing is the loss.”
“Stuart Nakamoto, extension economist with the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UH-CTAHR), agreed.
“If they’re seeing that big of a drop, that’s got to hurt the bottom line,” he said. “I don’t think prices are going to adjust that much.”
“Nakamoto added such a significant decrease in yield would put most small farms out of business if they relied solely on coffee to remain financially viable. Luckily, he explained, coffee isn’t the primary source of income for many small farmers working across the Kona coffee belt…”