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Cerrado emerges as producer of high quality coffee.

Brazil's coffee industry has undergone a drastic transformation over the last eight years. With the demise of the Brazilian Coffee Institute (IBC) in 1990, the country's coffee industry has been liberated from government control, leaving growers subject to the demands of the market. The increase in coffee prices, as well as favorable price differentials for fine coffees, has convinced the Brazilians of the need to produce high quality coffees for export. Growers now study New York's Coffee, Sugar & Cocoa Exchange and the Commodities and Futures Exchange (BM&F) in Sao Paulo closely. Gone are the days of sacrificing quality for quantity. The focus now is on producing quality coffees for the international market.

In recent years, the region of the Cerrado in the southwest of the state of Minas Gerais has emerged as a major producer of high quality coffee. Located at an altitude of 900-1,100 meters above sea level, the region's topography and natural climatic conditions are favorable for the cultivation of coffee. Warm days, cool nights, and the absence of rain during harvest time are excellent conditions for coffee cultivation. The relatively low humidity of the region inhibits the growth of bacteria, fungi, and micro-organisms which attack the beans. Furthermore, since the Cerrado is to the north of Sao Paulo and Parana (hence, closer to the equator), the frosts that have plagued coffee plantations in these states are unlikely to occur in the Cerrado.

Harvesting in the Cerrado is largely mechanical, which allows high yields at a lower cost. Most of the coffee in the region is dry processed, resulting in a full-bodied cup with low acidity. However, the growers of the Cerrado do produce different types of coffee.

"Brazil is unique in that it is capable of producing four types of coffee: natural (dry processed), fully washed, semi-washed, and a fourth process where the pulp is removed by mechanical means prior to drying," said Aguinaldo Jose de Lima, president of the Council of Associations of Coffee Growers of the Cerrado (CACCER). "Since we have natural and washed coffee, we are able to attend to various markets. While the production of washed coffee is small, it is something that is being utilized more in the region."

Several farms in the region have begun producing single estate coffees. These farms are members of the Brazil Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA). The BSCA was founded in 1991 by Ismael Andrade, Joaquim Libanio Ferreira Leite, Cleber Paiva, Marcelo Vieira, Fernando Paiva, Washington Rodrigues, and David Ottoni, who is currently president of the association. Today, there are 16 members who produce a total of 600,000 bags of milled coffee.

The aims of the BSCA are to produce and export specialty coffee, participate in international conferences with stands and samples of their coffees, and advertise and market the quality of the member farms, some of which produce 100,000 bags per year.

"This decade will focus on productivity, marketing, and advertising," said Ottoni. "We are sure that Brazil has incomparable potential for improving quality at a competitive price in the international market."

New Region Develops Coffee Industry

The town of Araxa, located in the south of the Cerrado, has three salient features. One is Lady Beja, who, despite her questionable reputation, is credited with using her political connections to return this region, which had been annexed by the neighboring state of Goias, to the state of Minas Gerais.

For those looking to relieve stress, Araxa offers a 33,000 sq. meter spa called the Barreiro Estate. Built in 1944, the complex had fallen into disrepair and was recently renovated to its former glory.

The third area of interest is the area's emerging high quality coffee industry. Araxa is one of the newest areas in the Cerrado to develop its coffee industry. The microclimate of the area is slightly different from the rest of the Cerrado: The terrain is hilly, the soil rich in minerals, the rainfall index higher than other parts of the Cerrado.

The Cooperative of Growers of the Araxa Plateau (COCAP) was founded by Juarez Pereira Valle with the aim of supplying exporters and roasters with another source for 100% high quality Cerrado coffee.

COCAP presently has 225 members. Despite its name, not all the farms that use the cooperative are located in Araxa. Many of them are located in other parts of the Cerrado, such as Ibia, Sacramento, Sao Gotardo, Perdizes, and Monte Carmelo. "COCAP has only one rule for membership," said Valle. "The farms must be located in the Cerrado. The cooperative will only accept invoices from Cerrado farms." In order to ensure that the coffee which arrives in the cooperative is actually Cerrado coffee, COCAP buys coffee directly from the grower, rather than from a third party. Furthermore, an agronomist from the cooperative visits the farms throughout the year so the cooperative is familiar with each farm's operation.

The cooperative's warehouse, which was built in July of 1997, has a storage capacity of 80,000 bags of coffee, and it is capable of processing 1,000 bags of coffee a day. Valle estimated that COCAP will export 50,000 bags of coffee this year to clients in Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Spain, and Germany.

Although he aims to double this figure over the next couple of years, Valle's main concern is that COCAP concentrate on selling high quality coffee. "We don't worry about volume. We worry about quality. We will only export high quality Cerrado coffee. That is what is important to us. This is why COCAP has tried to attract high quality growers," he said.

As soon as the coffee arrives in the warehouse, it is sampled and cupped. Only after the importers have given their approval will the coffees be blended and shipped. "We will only blend one Cerrado coffee with another," said Valle. "We can blend a coffee from Araguari with Campos Altos, on the other side of the Cerrado. Due to our central location, we can collect coffee from any area of the Cerrado and bring it to Araxa." If the quality is not up to par, the coffee is sold in the internal market.

Beginning this year, the cooperative will identify the farm, or farms of origin on the bags. In this way, the importer will know exactly where the coffee came from so they can request to buy from the same farm in the future, if they so desire. "The problem with this project is that it can only work with growers that produce enough volume. For this reason, COCAP is trying to work with medium- to large-sized growers," said Valle.

"What sets COCAP apart," said Valle, "is our method of selling. We are more aggressive in selling our coffee. This year, we started selling in December and have already sold 15,500 bags forward. We are already selling for January and February of next year and then we will try to sell October-December 1999. This is more than a year in advance. I sold coffee last November at a fixed price. We are trying to fix a price that is good for both the roasters and the growers, independent of the commodities market."

Cerrado Farm Project

Many growers in the Cerrado are introducing new technology on their farms. They have developed new methods of irrigation, installed computer systems, and invested heavily in research into producing new varieties and methods of cultivation.

One such farm is that of Daterra Atividades Rurais Ltd., the agricultural branch of the Brazilian holding company Dpaschoal. Daterra acquired the Boa Vista farm in Patrocinio in 1993, and turned the farm into an ambitious project for the production of high quality coffee in large volume.

The company plans to have 3,000 hectares (ha) planted with coffee by the year 2000. With an average production of 33 bags/ha, this adds up to an average production of 100,000 bags/year. So far, the farm is on target to reach that goal. Currently, there are 16 million coffee trees planted on 2,300 ha, and another 500 ha were planted this year.

The farm is highly structured. Coffee that arrives from the field is identified and catalogued at the gate. It then proceeds to the washer, where it is separated by density. From this point on, each grade will be dried separately using a different treatment.

Boa Vista's patios are situated quite far from where the coffee is washed. The coffee is loaded onto trucks equipped with fans so the excess water has a chance to drain off before the coffee reaches the patio. This process reduces the time the coffee remains on the patio by one day. After drying on the company's 30,000 sq. meter patio for three days, the coffee is further dried in 22 newly installed wooden silos for 60 days. This is a resting period which is necessary for the characteristics of the coffee to homogenize, explained Leopoldo Santanrta, one of the coordinators of the projects. After 60 days, color defects are sorted out electronically using Sortex color sorters.

Daterra is concerned with creating an ecosystem for the coffee plants. Santanna explained, "We are trying to create a natural balance for the coffee by planting trees which bring birds to the area. This is extremely important because coffee fares well in this protected environment."

However, Santanna does not believe in shade-grown coffee. Studies conducted on the farm have demonstrated that trees grown under conditions of low light are taller, have larger internodes, and do not produce as much coffee. Furthermore, the cherries do not mature until much later. "In my opinion," he said, "the problem with shade-grown coffee is that it is not economically viable. What is important it to create a healthy ecosystem with the trees and the birds."

Daterra devotes a considerable amount of time and resources on research. The company has reserved 30 ha for research conducted by the Campinas Institute of Agronomy (IAC). Together, Daterra and the IAC are studying 180 new varieties of coffee for size, cup quality, and resistance to pests and disease.

All the new coffee plantations start off as super density plantations. The space between the trees varies according to the variety of coffee planted. After three harvests, a row is removed, which allows the area to be harvested mechanically. Daterra uses two systems of irrigation. One is drip irrigation, which caused some problems because the water pressure was not uniform and some plants received more water than others. Daterra also uses "pivot irrigation," in which an arm, which has a radius of 600 meters, rotates on an axis. This form of irrigation has proved particularly useful for the density plantations.

Daterra's largest client is the Italian roaster Illycaffe. The company sells 30% of its production to Illy; the rest is sold to clients in Japan and the U.S.

"The coffee world is changing," said Santanna. "Today, we have to work according to the needs of the market. In order to attend the market, you must have quality and quantity. This is what we have here today. My job is to add value to the product. How do I do it? By producing coffee according to what the client wants. This is the future of coffee. In order to attend to the needs of the market, you have to have the resources and infrastructure behind you. It takes time, but now we are prepared to do that."
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Title Annotation:Brazil
Author:Melenikiotis, Veronica
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Aug 1, 1998
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Next Article:Sao Paulo Minas Gerais: changes along the coffee belt.

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