- Luana Ferreira
- Economic Correspondent – Brazil
Drinking coffee as a daily routine is essential for an estimated one billion people around the world.
However, what many coffee lovers may not know is that they are often drinking coffee made, at least in part, from coffee beans from Brazil.
“Brazilian coffee beans have characteristics that are very popular, they are known for their special texture and sweetness,” says Cristiano Borges, head of the country’s largest coffee bean farm, Ipanema Coffee.
“It is precisely for these reasons that many coffee blends in the world use our Brazilian coffee as their base.”
Brazil is the largest coffee bean producing country in the world. Its product represents more than a third of all global supplies, and to be precise, its global supply amounted to 37 percent in 2020. Vietnam comes second with 17 percent of supplies.
It is worth noting that about 70 percent of Brazilian coffee plants are expensive Arabica, which is used to make fresh coffee, and the remaining 30 percent is Robusta, which is mainly used to make instant coffee.
The problem for Brazil, and global coffee supplies in general, is that the country’s annual harvest fell by nearly a quarter last year due to drought in the main coffee-growing region, centered in the southeastern states of Minas Gerais, São Paulo and Parano.
This had a significant adverse effect in the global decline in the supply of coffee beans, and the subsequent doubling of wholesale prices since this time last year.
In an effort to mitigate any potential production declines in the future, Brazil’s largest coffee producers are turning to technology to help them grow coffee beans successfully and achieve the best possible yield, in terms of volume and quality.
One such company, Okuyama, says it now invests at least 10 percent of its revenue in technology. The company is headquartered in Minas Gerais, and has coffee farms covering 1,100 hectares (2,718 acres).
Its employees use a computer application called Cropwise Protector, which is made by the Swiss-Chinese agricultural technology company Syngenta.
Linked to ground sensors and satellite imagery, the app provides farm workers with a visual analysis of the farm and plants via a tablet or laptop.
They can then quickly apply things like drip irrigation or pest control to a specific area that may need it, rather than using those methods across an entire field or farm.
The idea is that this approach of specific and direct targeting is much faster and kinder to the environment.
“Every year there is a new challenge, and these technologies help us a lot to overcome these obstacles,” says Bruno Hiroiti, director of coffee bean production at Okuyama.
He adds: “We have also invested in techniques of the coffee drying process, where we can monitor the desired temperature, which is determined by the type of coffee we are drying.”
Okuyama dries some of his coffee beans in cylindrical heaters immediately after harvest, to prevent them from spoiling during storage before roasting. Determining the correct temperature and timing is essential to avoid waste, both in terms of coffee beans and energy used to operate the heaters.
As for Ipanema Coffees, which has around 4,300 hectares of farms in three locations in Minas Gerais, Borges says he has largely followed the technology path in recent years: “We have made large investments in semi-automatic irrigation, where the system measures water shortage . and weather conditions. And it gives us recommendations for what to do in each area.”
He adds that the investments help the company to reduce the impact of climate change: “We have climate problems such as drought and rising global temperatures…and the irrigation system has helped us improve our productivity…and it has become our climate insurance .”
Ipanema says it also has trackers on all its tractors to measure productivity, and is another user of Cropwise Protector technology. “It helps us monitor agricultural pests using only tablets,” says Gustavo Michalski, the company’s agricultural coordinator.
“This allows us to manage the problem and make more assertive and more sustainable decisions, as we can monitor indicators that give us location and severity,” he says. [مشكلة معينة] in every region.”
After harvesting his beans, Ipanema uses automatic picking machines for several years and selects only the ripe beans, which are yellow and red in color.
“We set up the machine by programming the colors we need,” says Rodrigo Ferreira, the company’s industrial director.
Brazilian coffee producers “can no longer increase their productivity simply by buying more land,” says Flora Viana, global marketing director for digital agriculture at Syngenta.
“We have reached the maximum available areas, producers should instead improve the production process for their coffee beans,” she says.
Borges adds that despite the above, technology relies on trained personnel: “It’s useless to have great technology if we don’t have a motivated and prepared team.”
He adds that Ipanema has 800 employees, and they often go to university to receive proper training.
But this increased use of technology is not common among Brazilian coffee producers.
While the technology has already been embraced by major players in the industry, such as Ipanema and Okuyama, numerous small producers who produce 66 percent of the country’s crop are still lagging behind.
But the hope is that the introduction of 5G mobile networks will improve internet connections in rural areas, making technology like Cropwise Protector even more common.