Sunday, March 13, 2011

How quickly things change.

I almost called Sarah Allen, editor at Barista Magazine, to add a section to my article before it went to print. I decided not to because it would only add confusion.

When I wrote that last article in Harvest Journal, it was true. The process of writing it forced me to really look at how I am managing the farm. I was able to look at different angles of farm management. I've been watching the yields on the farm grow. I've had the chance to visit dozens of farms in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. There are so many different ways to manage a farm. In the end there are two major over ruling drivers: the environment and money. If money was not an issue, farm owners wouldn't use herbicide. Farm owners could pay pickers well. Farm owners could give the land and their tree exactly what they need.

However that isn't the case. Farm labor is expensive and getting more expensive every year. I talk about this in the article. I also talk about how I tend to use manual methods in my cleanings and almost never use herbicide. That was totally true. The last few cleanings we have done literally drained my bank account. Proper manual methods are so expensive. Am I willing to spend that amount over the next few years while the trees develop?

The answer turned out to be no. It became a numbers decision. I wasn't willing to continue to pay the going rate for the manual cleanings 4 times a year. In one of the first article I wrote for Barista Magazine, I mentioned that I planted about 14,000 trees. We did. Because we chose to clean with machete most of those tree were chopped down by people cleaning. Now we planted even more coffee and I'm not willing to lose that investment of labor, time and money.

By writing that article, I made myself look hard at the way I spend money on the far. After much thought and looking at numbers of cleaning costs and current production vs anticipated production, I decided that I need to look at agrochemicals in a different way. In a way that they can help me maintain my investment in the farm. So instead of avoiding herbicide I will use it more often. Instead of only sparsely using organic fertilizer I will increase my production of organic fertilizer drastically and also use chemical fertilizer once a year.

For a brief moment it feels like I lied in the article. But when I use my mature side I realize I'm oversimplifying the situation. I didn't lie. It was the true when I wrote it. Now I've decided to embrace the use of agrochemicals as an economic management tool while committing myself to the production of organic compost to maintain or even increase the micro-biotic and fungal health of the soil.

Hence, Antonio is currently finishing the coral on the farm to hold at least one work animal full time. One animal can produce about 30kg of manure a day. I really need about 60kg of manure a day to fertilize the farm as I want but a factoria de estiercol (shit factory) on the farm is the most efficient way to make sure it is used on the farm. The compost bin for coffee cherry, which has been underutilized, is now being used as it was intended.

Barista Magazine Scribblings


Here are a couple thousand of my words. I try to cover planting coffee from two different perspectives: 1) large scale 2) smaller scale. Page 66-71.

If you have 15 min, give it a read and let me know what you think.

I'm working on a longer post to say how things have changed on Finca La Paz since writing that article.
The photos are of my last trip where I did some pruning, export prep and general catchup on the farm.