Everything You Need to Know about Coffee Farming

Everything You Need to Know about Coffee Farming

Global coffee consumption is estimated to grow by 2% to 164.64 million bags in coffee year 2018/19. Despite the ongoing demand growth, a global production surplus of 3.11 million bags is expected in coffee year 2018/19

The coffee industry employs over 25 million people across the globe. While most people are consumers of the supercharged drink, it is crucial to understand where coffee comes from. How is coffee farming done?

Different types of coffee farming

Coffee farming can be put into three categories:

  1. Organic coffee farms
  2. High production farms
  3. Small family-owned farms

Organic coffee farms

coffee beans

Organic farms involve non-use of pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals to boost the yields. Yields are extra healthy and expedite ripening of berries in the right way within a few weeks. Coffee is considered organic if;

  • It is produced without pesticides or chemicals for the past three years.
  • Grown in particular organic coffee crops. No alteration of soli movement or rain in the farm
  • Pest control methods used do not involve pesticides, and the soil is fertilized through compost to keep it chemical-free.

Organic coffee fetches high prices as compared to standard coffee beans. It is a common practice in Brazil.

High production farms

About 20% of farms not owned by families are operated in this manner. The commercialization of coffee growing in Mexico and Vietnam is an excellent example of high coffee output farms.

Small family-owned farms

coffee beans roasting

80% of the world’s coffee is grown by small-scale farmers. Over 125 million people rely on coffee farming for their livelihoods. 25 million are coffee farmers. They are the reason you get a cup of coffee every morning.

Environmental conditions required for coffee farming

Similar coffee growing conditions are experienced in the largest producer countries, Brazil, and Vietnam. The same conditions are also found in other coffee-growing nations.

Consistent heat is crucial for coffee growing.

A high elevation is fundamental for coffee to thrive. Brazil coffee farms rest on 1,900 feet above sea level, which is an excellent condition for coffee to grow.

Toraja and Sumatra are two very high-quality and highly demanded coffee beans in the world. They are gown on specific islands in Indonesia, which are up to 6,000 feet above sea level.

Altitude affects the coffee quality, and this affects the pricing.

coffee bean

Environmental conditions that affect coffee farming

Temperature change: the rising global temperatures will have severe effects on coffee production in the coming years. A report by I.P.C.C. revealed that South America and Africa will experience a massive reduction in coffee production because of changing conditions.

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Rain: optimal rain is perfect for coffee growth and ripening. When rain is scarce, coffee leaves start drying, and this causes fast ripening. The caffeine content in coffee is drastically reduced, and antioxidants are depleted. This makes coffee useless.

Coffee plants produce fruit; the beans are the seeds

Coffee comes from the seed inside the fruit hence the name cherry. There are two seeds in each cherry.

The coffee fruit can be sold and eaten as it is, though it is not a common practice since the caffeine and antioxidants levels are low.

How is coffee dried?

coffee drying

It takes up to six weeks to prepare coffee well. Coffee is dried in the sun to dry the fluid in the cherries and prevent them from spoiling/rotting.

Farmers use aerated and raised beds to store berries while they dry. Constant turning throughout the day allows uniform drying. When it rains, the cherries must be covered.

How long does it take coffee plants to mature?

From the time the coffee plant is planted, it takes three to four years to bear the first fruit. After this period, it will take another one year for cherries to mature

Picking coffee before maturity may result in sour-tasting coffee and inconsistent drying.

Each coffee plant produces an estimated one pound of roasted coffee per year.

coffee beans

Why is coffee farming not lucrative?

Huge wastage at the farm waters down efforts by the farmer. For instance, if you want to yield 10,000 pounds of coffee, you will have to grow over 35,000 pounds of cherries.

Handpicking can reduce wastage. Farms, where machines are used in harvesting, have a wastage of over 66% of picked coffee, which is enormous.

Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, after oil

Billions of coffee cups are consumed annually, making it one of the widely traded products.

What does fair trade certified mean for coffee farmers?

coffee farm

The coffee food chain involves farmers, middlemen, roasters, exporters, importers, companies, coffee houses, and store shelves. It is a long chain, and every step involves some costs.

Fair Trade Certified means farmers get a sustainable share of the product value for a quality life.

Living conditions in coffee-growing countries like Brazil, Vietnam, and Indonesia are not similar to those of the United States. Some companies take advantage of these economic disparities, thus affecting fair trade in coffee pricing and compensation ranges.

Ideally, Fairtrade ensure farmers get the biggest share from the product, but middlemen exploit them. They inflate the product prices but pay the lowest prices to farmers. If you are concerned about Fair Trade and farmer’s welfare, here are some top brands that are conscious about farmer’s welfare;

  • Cafe Altura
  • CRU Cafe
  • Cycle Town Coffee Roasts
  • Ethical Bean Coffee Company
  • Gourmesso
  • The Coffee Brewer
  • Kaladi Coffee Roasters
  • Kicking Horse Coffee
  • Kirkland Coffee
  • Kishe
  • Lidl Organic Coffee
  • Mount Hagen
  • Nespresso
  • Puro Fairtrade Coffee
  • One Coffee
  • Rhino Coffee
  • Red Diamond Coffee
  • Seattle’s Best Coffee
  • Starbucks Coffee
  • Steep & Brew
  • Sun Alchemy
  • Sure House Coffee
  • Thanksgiving Coffee Company
  • Trader Joe’s Sumatra Blend
  • Van Houtte
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It will be great paying the right price for the effort put by the farmer. See all Fairtrade products here.

roasted coffee bean

Is the Rainforest Alliance good for coffee farmers?

Rainforest Alliance aims at preserving the earth by providing incentives to distribute crops to roasters and middlemen for a higher amount on the product. They are similar to Fair Trade but concerned with the environment.

Rainforest Alliance received 97% accountability and transparency score on Charity Navigator and National Public Radio.

Rainforest Alliance get farmers an extra 15% per pound of coffee from all the growing countries. Farmers must, however, upgrade their farms to get the certification.

Is it good for coffee farmers?

coffee farmers

Merit: is certification is that farmers get better pay from their coffee production.

Demerit: farm upgrades to at high maintenance costs and may need some costly training

Corporations like Starbucks is C.A.F.E. certified and helps in auditing coffee farms and also inspect the living conditions of farmers.

Tips on establishing a coffee garden

Still want to grow your own coffee farm? There are two types of coffee you can plant: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica thrives well in high altitude areas, and Robusta grows in low altitude areas. Whether you plant Arabica or Robusta, you will find these tips very helpful:

  • Spacing: The spacing between Arabica ones is 8 feet by 8 feet and between Robusta plants is 10 feet by 10 feet and 
  • Dig right size holes – 2 feet long x 2 feet wide x 2 feet deep.
  • While digging holes: heap the topsoil on one side and bottom soil on another side.
  • Add manure to the dug-out soil and return it into the holes.
  • Mark the center of the holes and leave them for 2 – 3 months before planting.
  • Get coffee plantlets from Certified Coffee Nurseries.
  • During the planting season, plant very early in the morning or late in the evening.
  • Remove the polythene pot cover before planting the seedling/cutting.
  • Provide temporary shade to the newly planted coffee plantlets and water in case of water stress. Water conservation channels/bands are important in coffee.
  • When the coffee plantlets have attained a height of about 11/2 foot or 6 – 9 months after planting, train them (that is, bend in an east to west direction i.e. sunrise to sunset direction) to initiate multiple branches from which the lowest and healthiest 2 are selected and maintained together with the original plantlet. This ensures higher yield and profitability per tree.
  • The coffee garden should always be mulched and weed-free.
  • Beans and bananas are good intercrops for coffee.
  • De-suckering often is necessary to prevent the growth of a microclimate that encourages pests such as Black Coffee Twig Borer (BCTB).
  • At maturity, harvest only the red-ripe cherries and dry them immediately.

Final thoughts

The above facts about different growing methods, climatic requirements, coffee farmers, and the coffee industry are almost similar across the world.

Coffee will overtake tea as the most consumed beverage in the coming years.

Buying ethical coffee impacts coffee farmers directly. Buy from brands that are Fairtrade, C.A.F.E., Rainforest Alliance certified, and support more coffee production.

Ready to discover the whole world of coffee from A-Z? From the history to your cup.

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