Organic production must respect natural systems and cycles and prioritise sustainable production practises. With a strong legal framework in place to police the area there is a strong emphasis on environmental protection, biodiversity and animal welfare.
High quality products that are good for us and for the environment, that is the goal.
Coffee grows in a wide variety of climates, ecosystems and elevations. Successfully cultivating organic coffee demands a balance between an organic production area that is conducive to fertile planning without being conducive to the plagues that devour coffee in the absence of agrochemicals. Some places are just not appropriate for cultivating organic coffee, be it due to low elevation or high humidity.
Organic coffee thrive in an environment that is the equivalent to the top shelf of a refrigerator, a high altitude in a cool dry place. For farms that are located in the ideal organic growing locations, coffee must meet many stringent requirements to bear the seal of organic certification, requirements that eliminate some costs while generating others.
Money saved by not purchasing agrochemicals must be spent on the additional labour and resources required to apply the increased quantity of organic fertilizers. One common organic fertilizer is the decomposed pulp of the coffee cherry. Coffee pulps can increase the acidity of the soil providing the coffee plant with additional nitrogen, one of the essential elements for growth.
Organic coffee is often grown as part of an agro-forestry system. Fallen organic material from intercropped shade trees offers another potential source of nutrients. Decomposing leaves act as fertilizers and create ground cover that eliminates the need for organic herbicides which can be expensive and require more applications that their conventional counterparts.
Producers need to constantly conduct a cost benefit analysis to decide how to best meet the needs of the soil and the coffee plants while controlling labour costs
The regulation of shade is crucial to the cultivation of organic coffee because too high a percentage of shade can result in the creation of a perfect environment for fungi. Shade trees can provide the additional advantage of producing crops or hardwood that is also an additional source of income for coffee growers.
One requisite of growing organic coffee is that the soil mush be free of chemicals for a number of years before being certified organic. As soon as the application of chemicals and concentrated fertilizers ceases applying alternatives begins.
One of the biggest challenges to growing organic coffee is its susceptibility to disease such as coffee leaf rust. Should the fungus attack the crop, many farmers will have to make the difficult decision whether or not to switch to chemicals in order to save their coffee trees or lose up to 90 percent of their harvest in order to remain organic. Farms at higher elevations have been able to skirt the effects of disease making a strong case for only growing organic where the conditions are absolutely optimal.
In addition to the agricultural challenges producers also face the bureaucratic challenges of achieving certification. Independent farmers have to pay for certification themselves and in addition they need to be confident that there is a certified mill in their area and the mill needs to be certain that roaster and coffee buyers will buy enough of their organic stocks.
As organic coffees continue to perform well in cupping and tasting competitions (including our own UK Great Taste Two Gold Star Award in 2012) receiving attention for their taste as well as their sustainable and health attributes, demand should increase. This hopefully will necessitate the need to also decrease the cost of certification for the coffee farmers who are already painstakingly and lovingly cultivating their coffee with these organic processes.