The Future Continues
for 100% Kona Coffee
by Les Drent
With the final chapter being written in the fraudulent
Kona coffee case; a state wide Hawaii Coffee association
gaining momentum and planted acreage in Kona continuing
to rise; farmers, millers, roasters and retailers of
100% Kona coffee have much to look forward to. Add to
that an aggressive coffee growing research program that
is being conducted by the University of Hawaii and the
increasing popularity of Kona coffee a bright future
seems to be at hand. But like any successful venture,
this nearly 175 year old industry still has much to
improve to strengthen its future.
Hoshidana (roll away
roof system used for drying coffee) at Bay View
A flat of coffee starts.
A flat this size holds between 600-900 coffee starts
which is enough to plant an acre of coffee trees.
A coffee tree bearing
ripe coffee cherries.
Perhaps the happiest news of the Summer came when the
case involving Kona Kai Farms and their multimillion
dollar fraudulent Kona coffee scheme neared a conclusion
in the Federal Building in Oakland, California. After
several years of negative national media attention that
seriously tarnished the credibility and reputation of
100% Kona coffee, Michael Norton of Kona Kai Farms recently
plead guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count
of tax evasion.
On the following page is an excerpt from the July 14,
2000, U.S. Department of Justice press release.
Beyond the protection of 100% Kona coffee the industry
continues to grow at a rapid rate. This growth however
is also changing the faceof the local farms. Many of
the new plantings are the result of large scale growers
planting anywhere from 50 to 100 acre estates. For the
past 100 years Kona coffee production has been the result
of many small farms ranging from 1-10 acres. During
much of the 1800's several large coffee operations controlled
the majority of coffee lands in Kona but with the crash
of the coffee market in the early 1900's much of the
land was leased or sold to families who earlier emigrated
to Hawaii from Japan. These early Japanese first worked
in the sugar industry before establishing themselves
in Kona to avoid the harsh working and living conditions
offered on the sugar plantations. A cooperative effort
throughout the years with local mills to buy, process,
and sell the prized crop has been a way of life for
many in Kona. In most cases coffee farming has served
to only supplement a family's income and much of the
work was done after working normal jobs. While opinions
are scattered, some in Kona view the rise of larger
coffee estates as a means to strengthen the relationship
between small farmers and local mills as both realize
the importance each other plays in their continued overall
success. Some are also taking to the street to peddle
their own coffee in the retail marketplace. All in all
the operation of the Kona coffee industry is as diverse
as it has ever been.
A coffee orchard.
Also contributing to the success of all coffee production
not only in Kona but in the other coffee producing islands
is the Hawaii Coffee Association. It may surprise some,
but for many in Kona a new coffee organization is nothing
new. Over the years several groups including the Kona
Coffee Council and the Kona Coffee Farmers Cooperative
were created to deal with issues confronting the industry.
Few organizations however have maintained positive growth
and successfully pulled together all members of the
coffee growing community in Hawaii. Many are hoping
that the new Hawaii Coffee Association will serve to
further improve the relations among allfactions of the
Hawaiian coffee industry.
Hedger of Greenwell Farms carefully watches over
coffee as it passes over a gravity table. 100% Kona
coffee is graded by size and density of bean.
pound bag of high grade Extra Fancy coffee is filled
at the Captain Cook Coffee Company dry mill in Kainaliu.
master Kurt Penrose of Greenwell Farms finishes
a batch of fresh roasted 100% Kona coffee.
The Hawaii Coffee Association just celebrated the fifth
anniversary of its annual coffee conference in Kona
this past July. Once again the conference and trade
show served as a useful tool to improve many issues
revolving around the local coffee industry. The daily
trade show exhibited everything from coffee processing,
roasting, and packaging equipment while hourly lectures
tackled issues relating to the marketing and farming
of coffee in Hawaii. Other activities included several
social gatherings that brought together farmers, millers,
roasters and marketers from all the islands. Many agree
that outside the very applicable programs that dealt
directly with industry issues, the conference was simply
a great time to catch up and share inside opinions of
coffee production in Hawaii.
A woman picks coffee
above Kainaliu town
One serious issue discussed during a lecture given
by Mario Serracin of the University of Hawaii covered
the effect of microscopic pests known as nematodes on
coffee production in Kona and throughout Hawaii. An
ongoing study being conducted by Dr. Donald Schmitt,
and Mario Serracin of the University of Hawaii is attempting
to offer solutions to combat these root-knot nematodes
which if not controlled have the ability to wipe out
entire orchards of coffee. Studies have shown that the
effects of these nematodes have resulted in not only
lower yields but wilting, chlorosis, galling, root-rot
and ultimately tree death. In serious cases trees that
can normally sustain healthy growth for over 75 years
can die after only 5 years from time of planting.
While the first documentation of nematodes came in
1907 when they were detected in tobaccoplantings in
Hawaii it was in1982 that a problem of nematodes was
detected in coffee. From 1994 to present a scientific
study has yielded important information into the ecology
- life cycle of root-knot nematodes. Now that identification
and studies of this species have taken place several
tests are being conducted by the University of Hawaii
specialists in an attempt to learn more about controlling
the nematode problem not only in Kona but other Hawaiian
Islands as well.
Luis Cisneros of Bay
View Farm transports fermented coffee to the drying
It is now known that several initiatives can be taken
by farmers to control the spread of nematodes throughout
the farmlands, one being the start of trees from seed
in sterile soil rather than the "pulla pulla"
method in which young coffee plants are pulled out of
the ground and replanted. This practice alone will greatly
control the spread of nematodes throughout orchards.
It is also believed that the timing and frequency of
irrigation and fertilization plays an important role
in the reduction of nematode populations. It has been
documented that nematode production increases in overly
irrigated fields. To further this clean start of coffee
tree growth it is recommended that clean and sterile
soil be used to start coffee plants. This can be accomplished
in two ways. The first, a more expensive but foolproof
way, would be to simply buy bagged soil that has been
sterilized. A second more affordable but labor intensive
way would be to sterilize the soil by cooking it. This
is commonly accomplished in South and Central America
by cooking soil in 50 gallon drums over an open fire
while turning for a period of two hours.
Cuppers cup 100% Kona
coffee at the annual Kona Coffee Festival.
Perhaps the most revolutionary solution to the nematode
crisis may come in the special grafting of Kona coffee
cuttings onto root systems of African coffee trees.
The root systems of these African coffee trees have
proven resistant to nematodes. While many are skeptical
about the effects this might have on the taste of Kona
coffee, University of Hawaii horticulturists and expert
coffee cuppers, Skip Bittenbender and Kathy Cavaletto,
say that preliminary coffee cupping tests show that
no difference in taste has been recognized. Knowing
full well that the Kona coffee farmers are the true
judge and jury of the Kona taste, a full and comprehensive
cupping will take place later this year by discriminating
members of the Kona coffee industry.
Romeo Ladore in the foreground
and Justin Pitts in the background of Greenwell
Farms pulp freshly picked coffee cherry.
All in all the Hawaii Coffee Association is proving
to be a useful and beneficial organization to aid all
facets of the Hawaiian coffee industry. For more information
about next year's conference or to become a member of
the Association, interested people are encouraged to
visit the association's web site at: www.hawaiicoffeeassoc.org
An ongoing effort continues to support the protection
of 100% Kona coffee; acreage is on the rise; and the
alliance between small farmers and mills in Kona is
being strengthened. Everyone is hoping for sustainable
coffee prices and looking forward to a very successful
2000-2001 coffee season.
United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District
of California announced today that Michael L. Norton
pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one
count of tax evasion. Mr.
Norton, 52, a Berkeley resident, was indicted by a
federal Grand Jury on April 16, 1998 for multiple
counts of wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.
charges stem from an elaborate scheme perpetrated
by Norton during 1993-1995 to defraud businesses and
consumers who purchased coffee from his business believing
it to be 100% Kona coffee from Hawaii when, in fact,
the coffee was significantly cheaper coffee from Central
America. During the period 1993 through 1996, Norton
purchased approximately 3.6 million pounds of Central
American coffee. By sorting the Central American coffee
to size, re-bagging, and then relabeling it as "pure
Kona Coffee", Mr. Norton was able to generate
profits substantially greater than he would have if
he had not misrepresented the product as Kona coffee.
The government contends that those additional profits
exceeded $10 million.
years 1995 and 1996, Mr. Norton diverted approximately
$1.3 million of his fraudulent coffee sales proceeds
to a personal Swiss bank account. He failed to report
these proceeds as income on his 1995 personal income
of the plea agreement entered in the case, Norton
has agreed to forfeit to the government approximately
$2 million which the government seized at the time
Norton was first charged as well as another $1.3 million
which Norton had placed in his Swiss bank account
in order to avoid paying income taxes.
sentencing of Mr. Norton is scheduled for October
20, 2000 at 10 a.m. before Judge D. Lowell Jensen
in the Oakland Federal Courthouse. The maximum statutory
penalties for each of the wire fraud and tax violations
to which Norton pleaded guilty are; five years imprisonment;
3 years supervised release; a fine of $250,000 and
a special assessment of $100. In addition, the wire
fraud charge also requires that Norton make restitution
for losses suffered by his customers.
prosecution is the result of a lengthy investigation
of Mr. Norton by Special Agents of the U.S. Customs
Service, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Contra
Costa County Sheriff's office. The prosecution was
handled in court by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Laura
E. Gonzales and Ben Burch with the assistance of Letty
press inquiries to the U.S. Attorney's Office should
be directed to Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Jacobs
at (415) 436-7181.
may submit editorial comments to any of our stories
by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We would be happy to attach your comments and feedback
to anything we publish online. Thank you for your interest."
appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and
appears online for archival purposes only. Any use or
reprinting of these stories without the expressed written
consent of the author is prohibited.