Farm Diaries: Finca La Paz Afterword
When not keeping quality at the utmost and selecting green beans for our roastery, our Director of Coffee, Byron Jackson Holcomb, is also a coffee farm owner. We’ve been keeping up with his dispatches from his own farm, Finca La Paz, in the Dominican Republic. Here’s the last installment of his most recent trip.
I wanted to give one last recap of what is going on in the Dominican Republic.
Consumption has out paced production this year, so the company that sets the prices, Induban, went out and bought a few boxes of . . . Vietnam. I’m sure it is terrible Robusta. They are the same company that sets the internal price. When the market was recently at 280, DR coffee traded at about -50 or 8500RD peso/qq or $2.25/lb. Now the market is at 229 and DR coffee is trading the same 8500RD pesos/qq or $2.25/lb. Nope it doesn’t make sense. They must be long on coffee with their new purchase and import of “rot gut R word”. At the same time Brazil had devalued a good bit against the dollar. And the DR peso has also slipped from 37RD peso per USD to 38RD pesos per USD.
One good thing coming out of this is that farmers are taking more ownership of their farms. The cost of living and salaries are rather high in the DR compared to countries like Nic. Over the last 10 years farmers went from managing every aspect of their farm and counting their profit at the end of the year, to slowly eliminating coffee and handing all management over to workers. It went like this: cheap labor and rather low costs = farmers managing the entire picking, cleanings and pruning of their coffees. In the 1950’s, the DR was one of the major exporters of coffee. Even in the 90’s there was plenty of coffee leaving the DR. The DR is one of the few coffees that can be traded on the NYBOT ICE or the Futures market. After the coffee crisis in 1999, farmers starting losing lots of money. They offered their coffee farms to their pickers to manage. It started where the pickers would manage the cleanings (2-3 per year) and at the end they would get 1/4th of the harvest as payment. The owner still owned the land, but was totally removed. Then prices stay low and costs go up. Workers demanded 1/3 of the harvest. Owners gave it to them because they couldn’t make profit. For about the last 10 years (I think) coffee was provided to the workers at 1/2 “a media”. Usually the owner only shows up on the days the pickings happen to see that they actually get 50% of the harvested coffee. You can imagine a non-owner taking care of a farm for 3-10 years… the farms look terrible. No inputs (organic or chemcial), no real pruning method, cleaning only just before the harvest (so coffee trees are stressed and compete with vines and weeds for nutrients and sunlight). Often times there is suspicion of taking coffee or not taking “good enough” care of the farm or harvesting too harshly and killing next year’s crop potential. Which means the farm is offered “a media” to different picker every year (those farms look particularly bad).
Now, since last year farmers made some money on coffee and are actually stepping back into their farms. They are paying for cleanings. They are paying pickers per day and per the “caja” or box for picking coffee. The farms look better and the coffee isn’t all spoken for before, it flowers (which is better for exporting quality coffee). These are all much better conditions for producing quality coffee and having sustainable financial and environmental systems.
My coffee from Finca La Paz is on a truck headed to Ozone Park! It should arrive on Tuesday.