The coffee plant is a fast-growing tropical bush tree that is well adapted to different eco-physiological conditions of the tropics. Coffee trees are usually cultivated for the berries, which are processed using various techniques to form green coffee. Green coffee serves as the basis for various coffee products. Coffee farming is a highly lucrative agricultural trade. Coffee is extensively grown in over 60 countries and distributed to very corner of the world. A successful coffee harvest relies on the farmers’ knowledge and skill on various coffee farming procedures.
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The ideal soil type for coffee farming are sandy-loam soils. To produce high yield, coffee farming requires deep permeable soil, of good structure, that contains sufficient organic matter as well as favourable water balance. The clay content of the soil should be about 15% to 35%. In addition, coffee requires slightly acidic soils with a pH of about 5 to 6.5 though it can still thrive in soils with 3pH levels. Preparation of soil for coffee farming involves cultivation and removal of debris that can affect plant growth. A small sample of the soil should be taken for soil testing in order to determine the type and quantity of the nutrient supplements needed. Organic and in organic manure is incorporated into the soil using quantities obtained from the soil test to improve the health of the soil. The upside of soil testing is that it allows farmers to avoid risks associated with under and over fertilization of crops. Where zero-tillage is employed, holes large enough to allow plants to be transplanted without bending the tap root should be dug. The soil should be ploughed and cultivated thoroughly before transplanting is done.
Coffee is first grown in nurseries where it is nurtured until reaching the period of transplanting. Coffee is normally planted in the beginning of the rainy season when the soil is moist and temperatures are moderate. Prior to planting, seedbeds must be well cultivated and fertilised. The seedbed should be well levelled and watered. It should consist of furrows of about 1.5cm to 2cm deep and 5cm to 7cm apart where seeds are to be deposited. Farmers should take note that the seeds are evenly spaced during coffee farming. Transplanting occurs between 60 days to 90 days after planting. Another method to tell if it is time for transplanting is by measuring the height of the plant. Seedlings should be removed from the nursery when they are about 20cm tall. The holes dug for re-planting coffee trees ought to be approximately 50cm long 50cm wide and 50cm deep. Before planting, a root inspection is conducted to make sure that only the productive seedlings are re-planted. Seedlings with double roots can be maintained whereas those with a single root are discarded.
Coffee farming requires more than just perfect weather conditions. For coffee to grow and reach optimal levels of production, it requires a combination of specific climatic conditions including temperature, rainfall and elevation also known as altitude.
Elevation, or altitude refers to the height above sea level. Altitude plays an important role in coffee farming. Different coffee varieties require specific latitude locations in order to thrive. Arabica coffee favours an altitude of about 25oN and 24oS whereas Robusta coffee is cultivated between 15oN and 12oS. Although coffee farming is heavily dependent on seed variety versus altitude, it can generally be grown at altitudes ranging from 400 to 2000m above sea level. The ideal altitude that provides best conditions for coffee farming is between 800 to 1200m above sea level.
Coffee farming generally thrives in areas with an annual average temperature ranging between 18oC to 23oC. The plant is highly susceptible to front and windy weather conditions. However, different coffee varieties may succeed in temperatures slightly below and above this range. For example, the Robusta and Conilon coffee grow well annual temperature ranges of 22oC to 30oC which is well above the stated range, on the other hand Arabica coffee requires lower temperatures. Extreme weather conditions that are far beyond the recommended temperatures tend to be detrimental to the coffee bush. Prolonged temperatures that fall below 12oC hinder growth, flowering, fruit development, fruit ripening and the overall yield. Nevertheless, although the Arabica coffee also requires high temperatures for abundant differentiation of flower buds, it is well suited to cooler temperatures than other coffee varieties.
The success of coffee farming is heavily reliant on adequate rainfall. Coffee is less tolerant to water shortages. It requires well distributed rainfall of approximately 1 500mm a year. Lack of adequate rainfall affects flowering, seed maturation and the overall growth of the plant. Rainfall should be continuous for 7 to 8 months for successful coffee farming. Excess rainfall exceeding 3000mm encourages fungal infection thus is harmful to coffee.
Pest and Diseases
Pests and diseases are a major challenge in coffee farming. Coffee often falls victim to the white stem borer, antestia stink bug, leafminer, mealybug, black coffee stem borer, grey coffee snout beetle ad the coffee berry moth among others. These are usually an effect of improper management of the coffee plant. They also indicated the nutritional status of the crops. Pests and diseases can spread and lead to low yields. Farmers should therefore select seed varieties that are either resistant or highly tolerant to pests in their environment. For example, Arabica coffee is more vulnerable to leaf diseases and pests than Robusta, especially when rainfall exceeds 3,000 mm per year. A farmer should thus have knowledge of various coffee seeds so as to select the most suitable variety that would not be easily attacked by rampant pests and diseases. Crops should be closely monitored to ensure that there are no pests and diseases prevalent. Appropriate pesticides should be applied in case of an outbreak.
Weeds should be controlled to enable successful coffee farming. Weeding can either be done manually or mechanically using a registered herbicide. Weed can also be controlled by planting canavalia as cover crop between the rows of coffee. This also helps to retain soil moisture. Mulching is another way farmers can control weed. Mulch can be placed around the coffee seedling during the early stages. Take note that mulch is at least 100mm away from the main stem.
Coffee trees naturally take about 3 to 4 years to mature, however, improved varieties can mature between 1 to 2 years for example the Sigararutang beans which are said to be quick yielding. Achieving a successful coffee harvest is basically reliant on the type of coffee in comparison to the environment. Coffee growers need to be fully aware of their environment including their climate, pests and diseases common in their areas and soil. This knowledge will enable them to select an ideal type of coffee thus yielding better harvests. Read Harvesting Coffee for more information on coffee harvesting.