A New Way to
by Bob Nelson
Coffee orchard pruned
in accordance to the Beaumont Fukunaga Vertical
Pruning System using a 3-year rotation. When pruning
using the Beaumont Fukunaga Style Pruning method,
the farmer removes all of the verticals from trees
in every third row.
Throughout the past 175 years, Kona coffee farmers
have tried many innovative techniques in an effort to
successfully grow what many profess to be the
best coffee in the world! Pruning is a necessary
technique that is not only required to maintain a healthy
tree but keeps quality and quantity at its highest levels.
Traditionally, coffee trees in Kona are pruned using
a Kona Style pruning method, where each
tree supports vertical shoots representing a number
of different years. For instance, a tree may support
one-year, two-year, three-year, and four-year old verticals.
In order to maintain this rotation, the farmer removes
the oldest of the verticals found on the tree in late
winter or early spring. This removal causes the
tree to put out a number of shoots below the cut.
The farmer then selects one or more of these new shoots
based on size and location and removes the rest.
The retained shoots become the newest of the verticals
that will bear future coffee.
In the mid 1990s, the Kona Coffee Council and
the UH Cooperative Extension Service held a workshop
describing a different pruning technique. Instead
of the conventional Kona method described above, this
technique is based on having all the verticals on a
tree and in a row be the same age with each row being
a different age. That is, one row would contain
trees with 1-yr-old verticals, another with 2-year olds
and a third with 3-yr olds. When looking across
the field, you would see a system of 1-2-3, 1-2-3, etc.
Each year after the coffee is harvested, all 3-year-old
verticals are cut off and the tree can start the following
year with all new verticals. Thus the 3-yr-old
rows become the next years 1s, last years
1s become 2s and last years 2s become
3s. My initial reaction to this method of
pruning was WOW, this is the way to prune coffee!
The coffee trees were all standing nice and straight
making it very easy to move through the rows to spread
fertilizer, control ground cover, pick, and etc.
But then I got to thinking; wait a minute, I have
only been involved in coffee farming less than ten years.
If this is such a great way to prune and grow coffee,
how come everyone isnt doing this?
The answer to this question eluded me for some time
but finally I came up with what I considered might be
a likely answer. Many of the local coffee farmers
are from families who have been coffee farming for several
generations and generally speaking, farmers are very
traditional people. My dad and his dad before
him pruned their coffee using the Kona Style and, since
the wheel is not broken so to speak, this is the way
I prune my coffee trees! To some, it didnt
seem logical to cut off perfectly healthy and productive
verticals, especially since you wouldnt be getting
any coffee from that tree the following year.
Using the Beaumont -
Fukunaga style of pruning has brought us one step
closer to producing that ultimate cup of 100% Kona
So, is this a radically new technique being used by
only a few farmers in Kona? No, not really. It
turns out this system was developed in the 1940s and
1950s at the University of Hawaii Kona Agricultural
Research Station in Kainaliu by John Beaumont and Edward
T. Fukunaga. So what is the name of this system?
You guessed it. Its called the Beaumont-Fukunaga
Vertical Pruning System*. From the
beginning records show the system never really became
popular throughout the Kona coffee belt, but it became
widely used in Central and South America. Recently
however, a number of farms in Kona have begun using
this system or abbreviated versions of it. The
growth in its popularity is due in part to the move
away from family-worked farms to farms hiring others
to do the pruning and labor.
Now that I have convinced myself that this was the
way to prune coffee, where and how do I start to implement
this system? Our 3.8-acre farm, Lehuula Farms,
is centrally located within the Kona Coffee Belt and
has supported some form of agriculture for thousands
of years. Coffee was first planted here in the
early 1900s but the farm was abandoned sometime
around the beginning of WWII. It remained in a
rather wild state until the early 1980s
when a couple bought it with the intention of turning
it back into a working coffee farm. They soon
realized this task was more than they had bargained
for and put the property up for sale in 1984.
My wife and I purchased the land in the spring of 1986
and began the arduous task of finishing the clearing
When we made the decision to go from the conventional
method of pruning to the Beaumont - Fukunaga method,
there were approximately 2,000 coffee trees on the farm
ranging in age from 1 year to 80 + years old.
In many cases rows were non-existent and the first major
task we faced was to establish rows. We did this
using a brightly colored line and a can of marking paint.
Once the rows and the trees within the rows were marked,
we removed the extra trees. Now that we had rows,
we were ready to implement the system by stumping (cutting
off at approximately 2 in height) all of the trees
in every third row. In addition, we planted numerous
young trees (keikis) between the existing trees.
Since we were using a 3-year rotation, the task of cutting
and planting continued for the next 2 years. When
we finished after the 3rd year, not only had we converted
our farm from a place where coffee trees haphazardly
grew to one where the trees were in rows but, we now
had approximately 4,000 trees.
Based on our experience at Lehuula Farms, we think
there are quite a few reasons why this is an ideal way
to prune and grow coffee.
Sunlight plays a very important role in
the health and stability of a coffee tree. Under
the conventional Kona-style pruning system, young verticals
grow in the shade of at least 3 other more mature verticals.
Because of this, they tend at times to be rather spindly.
When theyre heavy with fruit in their 3rd or 4th
years, they cannot support themselves and the
orchard becomes a jungle of drooping branches!
In contrast, older verticals do not shade verticals
grown using the Beaumont- Fukunaga pruning system and
thus most become strong and remain standing when mature.
The farmer saves a lot of time by not having to go around
the farm propping verticals.
Pruning under the conventional system requires the
farmer to pay attention to which vertical or verticals
should be removed. Under the Beaumont - Fukunaga
system, it is a no brainier so to speak
as you simply remove all of the verticals from those
trees in the appropriate rows. This type of pruning
allows a lot of extra light into the rows. Since light
availability is one of the controlling factors in determining
tree spacing, the trees can now be planted significantly
closer together. On our farm, this equates to
twice as many trees per acre.
Studies demonstrate that coffee production drops off
dramatically on verticals older than 3 years.
It therefore makes sense to remove those verticals and
allow them to be replaced with younger ones. The
Beaumont - Fukunaga system actually increases coffee
production over time because, even though youre
pruning away 1/3 of your crop each year, you have significantly
more trees per acre with healthy and productive verticals.
Shoot selection under the conventional pruning method
requires a visit to each tree on your farm 3 or more
times per year. With the Beaumont - Fukunaga method,
you visit every 3rd, row (only 1/3 of your trees) annually.
When the shoots are approximately 12 tall, you
go through and remove all but the healthiest 6 to 8
shoots paying close attention not only to size but also
position on the stump as well. About 6 weeks later,
you revisit those stumps and remove all but the final
4 which will become the new fruit bearing verticals.
In the spring, you also have to remove a few shoots
from the plants you pruned the previous year.
Since the pruned trees grow and remain
straight, the rows remain open. This makes tasks
such as picking, ground cover control, and fertilizing
much easier. I also feel this system is healthier
for the plant. Coffee is a heavy producer, and by using
the Beaumont - Fukunaga system of pruning you give the
plant a break from producing fruit once every third
year. During the year that you stump, all that
plant has to do is concentrate on growing healthy verticals.
A lot of people grow and produce Kona Coffee, but there
is a difference between doing it and doing it well.
Using the Beaumont - Fukunaga style of pruning has brought
us one step closer to producing that ultimate cup of
100% Kona Coffee!
* This pruning system actually has three variations:
the four year/four row 1-3-2-4, the three year/three
row 1-2-3, and the five year/five row 1-3-5-2-4.
Bob Nelson, a farm boy from the mid-west, went to Alaska
in the mid-1960's where he attended the University of
Alaska and graduated with a BS degree in Wildlife Biology.
After a successful career as a wildlife biologist with
the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, he and his wife
moved to Hawaii in 1994 and became full time coffee
farmers. For more information about Lehuula Farms and
their superb 100% Kona coffee check out their web site
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