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The Volcano Is Erupting: What Does That Mean For Kona Coffee?

The Volcano Is Erupting: What Does That Mean For Kona Coffee?

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the east side of the Big Island is one of the rare places where humans can safely come face to face with an erupting volcano and view the lava inside. It is for this reason that Kilauea and its Halemaʻumaʻu Crater is one of the most famous tourist attractions in all the Hawaiian Islands. To be there is to come up close and personal with one of the truly inspiring and captivating mysteries of the universe.

The September 2021 Eruption. Photo: USGS

Kilauea Volcano near Volcano Village, is far away from the Kona Coffee Belt, in red. There is no direct threat of lava flows for the Kona Coffee Belt.

So does this mountain of fire and lava on the Island affect our farmers in Kona?

We get this question a lot. The short answer? No, not directly. The Kona coffee belt is located about two and a half hours away from Kilauea and since all of the lava is contained inside the caldera like the water inside of a pool, the Kona coffee belt is in no direct danger from this eruption, and never will be. The Volcano does, however, affect the growth of coffee shrubs and of the entire agriculture of the Island of Hawaii indirectly…through its gaseous emissions and their effect on weather!

The Role Of Vog, or Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)

Photo: USGS

When volcanoes erupt, they produce various gasses that enter into the atmosphere. The main gas emitted is Sulfur Dioxide. On the islands, we call this “Vog” or Volcanic Fog. SO2 is highly reflective, and in parts of the island can produce thick clouds of hazey conditions.

Here in the high hills of Kona, where our family farm is located, the Vog is much more dispersed and light, depending on the day. Though it has zero effect on global climate, this phenomenon does reflect local sunlight back into the atmosphere though, producing a localized cooling effect! 

According To Farmers, When Kilauea Is Erupting There Is Slightly Less Rain

Kilauea erupted continuously from 1983 until one rainy day in 2018 when it just…stopped. Again, no one can say why or how or when these things happen exactly. But it stopped. What the Farmers in Hawaii say is that the two years that Kilauea went silent were the rainiest years in recent memory. 

This is what an even ripening of red 100% Kona Coffee cherries looks like.

There’s enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that the Vog actually deters rainfall to a small degree, reinstating a dry season. Since coffee is a tropical fruiting tree, it needs a dry season (our winter months) to trigger the burst of cherries.

Too much rain is a problem. What the excess rain created for the past 2 years was a bit of a tough time for agriculture in Hawaii, especially for coffee. Instead of one large, robust, uniform bloom of ripe red coffee cherries (which results in one large, robust uniform season of ripe cherry picking), the trees became “confused” and produced countless smaller blooms of cherries at many different times. This made it tough for the pickers, who had to comb through the trees over and over again over various months, picking only the ripe cherries that came in at very different times. Costs were driven up, since pickers are paid either by the hour or by the pound picked…farmers were paying for many more hours of labor, and yields were low each time. 

Halemaʻumaʻu is Slowly Erupting Once Again

On September 29, 2021 the eruption started back up and its been slowly seeping ever since. Now that Kilauea is oozing lava once again and a little Vog has returned to the swirling tradewinds of the Kona Coast, it looks as though a more uniform bloom of coffee will occur. It seems that the dry season (winter) has returned to the islands and the coffee is responding. The science isn’t official on it, but the farmers all seem to agree. Here at Kona Coffee & Tea, we trust our farmers. It is their hard work and dedication that is the backbone of the highest quality 100% Kona Coffee we are proud to provide to you year after year, no matter what.

When you visit the ever-changing, ever-evolving Big Island of Hawaii, we hope you are able to view the fantastic eruption of Kilauea at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and before you do, we welcome you in to our Kailua-Kona cafe for breakfast and a cup of 100% Kona coffee.

The Kona Coffee & Tea family farm high above Kailua-Kona, welcoming back the Vog.

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