The 2014-2015 harvest is just around the corner, but don’t think that we haven’t been doing anything during the last six months. On the contrary, we've kept ourselves busy, so that quality and productivity continue to improve.
Our first goal following the harvest and export of coffee in the spring of this year was to develop and implement an Annual Activity Plan, targeting areas of improvement identified during the harvest. Foremost among these problems was a lack of fertilization, followed by better education concerning sanitary coffee management, shade regulation, and pruning. Many of these issues were exacerbated by a lack of financing available to coffee producers. To address this, we held meetings in April 2014 with local banks who provided most of the farmers with whom we work with credit lines for up to 5 years, a development that has helped producers considerably during the crucial pre-harvest period.
Two years on from the arrival of the leaf rust crisis in Central America, roya continues to be a challenge requiring constant vigilance from producers. Initially there was little impact from rust on the coffee farms due to the relative dryness earlier this year. But once normal precipitation returned in August, there were farms registering up to 10% of trees being affected. To date, however, it has been controlled, with infestation levels closer to 2%.
Coffee producers are enthusiastic about this year’s crop. They consider Virmax Nicaragua a partner who, by providing technical assistance year-round and genuine reward at harvest, is helping them to continue their involvement in coffee production. With the direct support of our promotores, and a very positive attitude by coffee producers, farms are looking healthy for this upcoming harvest. Coffee farms are well-managed, with at least 3 applications of fertilizer, 3 applications of micro-nutrients, and preventive applications against pests and diseases. For the 2014-2015 crop, we are expecting significant improvements in cup quality, due to better and more consistent coffee ripening.
In addition to these farm-centered efforts, we are making improvements at Beneficio La Estrella, including the construction of 1,900sm of pre-drying area with raised beds and 100% shade. This area is designed to slowly pre-dry the wet parchment for at least 3 days, allowing the bean to gradually lose moisture while protecting the embryo. Coffee will then be transferred to the drying areas built last year, which consist of raised beds with 80% shade cover. The purpose of this controlled drying is to prolong the drying stage to at least 15 days with temperatures below 35° Celsius, avoiding abrupt changes during the process. The end result should be better-tasting, longer-lasting coffee.
Currently, 30% of our producers have already started picking coffee. This first picking corresponds to a small flowering that happened before the main flowering. We expect to receive our first lots from Dipilto by December 10th. If all goes as planned, we will have our first lots dried by the end of December.
Virmax Nicaragua has been working with specialty coffee producers in the Nueva Segovia and Jinotega departments of Nicaragua since 2013. We work with coffee producers in Dipilto, La Union, Cerro de la Explosion, San Jose, Nubarrones, El Limon in Nueva Segovia and Las Cuchillas in Jinotega. Virmax Nicaragua S.A. is part of the Caravela Coffee Group.