The Coffee Journey – Episode II
coffee farm activities gearing up for the 2023-2024 harvest.
February is an interesting month. At most farms in El Salvador, it is a quiet
time since the harvest is done and there is no moisture in the soil, which
means the plants are dormant, awaiting rain. The dry season post-harvest
(February to April) provides most farmers with an opportunity to save
money as no or minimal activities are required.
Not so at our farm. I find this time of the year to be very important as it sets us
up for the rest of the season. So, what did we do this past February? We
pruned coffee trees, conducted overall farm scouting and assessment for
the season, and prepared budgets for the bank.
Coffee trees need to be pruned to maintain decent yields. The reason is
that the part of the plant that bore fruit in the prior year will not bear fruit
again. Coffee cherries only develop on new growth areas. As the plant
grows, those new growth areas tend to be smaller and thus yield fewer
cherries. Hence, pruning stimulates the plant to generate new areas for
growth. I won’t get too technical, but there are different pruning techniques.
Our team has been busy pruning the older lots, and we are utilizing a new
method this year for most of the lots. In the past, we have done what is
called "appreciative pruning", where a collaborator determines which
branches to prune or not based on their own experience. This year, we are
trying a systematic pruning approach where a particular row is pruned in
the same manner, irrespective of how good or bad the plant looks to our
collaborators. Furthermore, we are "shaving" the branches and capping the
top to incentivize the growth of secondary branches. We’ll see later in the
year how the plants respond.
In terms of scouting, February is the ideal time to do a thorough
assessment of the farm's health following the harvest. There are certain
areas that look "done for"; and will require replanting. Luckily, it is only a
small area of roughly three acres, so we are incorporating that into our
plans for the year. Also, certain areas seem to have been affected by
Coffee Leaf Rust, so we are already planning foliar spraying early in
March to address that issue, as well as spraying nutrients to help the plants
during the stress of the dry season and provide nutrients prior to flowering.
My least favourite activity this time of year is the budget for the season. A
detailed budget is put together that needs to be submitted to the bank in
order to request working capital. There is a lot of back and forth about what
activities to do or not do, cost, affordability of inputs, etc. It is not the most
engaging of conversations.
In terms of weather conditions, it is still dry, with no rain since December
31st when we got passing showers and 2 millimetres. Temperatures have
been sunny for the best part of two months, with highs of 30° dropping to
16° in the evenings.