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
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
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 Coffee!
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 process.
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
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 at: www.lehuulafarms.com.