Hurry Up and Wait: Evaluating the Nicaragua Harvest 2014-2015

Monitoring the Maturity of the Coffee Trees.

We have been monitoring the maturity of coffee trees in the municipalities where we are currently working: of Dipilto, Mozonte, San Fernando and Jalapa in the Department of Nueva Segovia; and the municipalities of San Juan de Río Coco and Las Sábanas en the Department of Madriz.  This monitoring has been done through visits to each of the farms belonging to producers who have sold coffee to Virmax Nicaragua in years past, as well as new producers who are starting to deliver coffee in the current harvest.

Yamir Garcia, Finca Yo Tengo Fe, Dipilto, Nueva Segovia

Yamir Garcia, Finca Yo Tengo Fe, Dipilto, Nueva Segovia

Field Observations.

As a rule, when precipitation is normal and well distributed during the year, fruit maturation usually occurs about 240 days (roughly 8 months) after flowering. Applying this rule to this harvest and taking into account that flowering occurred at the end of June due to the “El Nino”, cherries did start maturing in February, which was about one month later than normal.

With the beginning of the first picking, producers have found it difficult to pick only ripe cherries, as the maturation has been irregular and not as uniform as usual.  Additionally, it has been raining during the harvest, and the constant rain has caused the cherries to mature quickly and even sometimes when still “painted” or unripe, with some cherries are splitting.  Producers have been very worried that the cherries will fall to the ground which would represent an economic loss for them.

During our visits we have also noted that on the majority of the farms the trees are very advanced in preparation for the next harvest, which could be a risk factor that could cause losses due to the stress suffered during the picking phase of the current harvest.

Educational Presentations Made by the Promotores.

As part of our work to increase producer awareness about the importance of coffee quality, we have given two presentations to focus groups in the municipality of Dipilto. The title of the presentation was “Quality Control in the Harvest and Wet Milling of Coffee”. These presentations took place in the communities of El Horno and Dipilto. Topics included different techniques of selective picking, pulping, fermentation, washing, and transportation.  Participants were not only producers with whom we have worked in years past, but also new producers, farm managers, supervisors, and workers who are in charge of processing the harvest on the farms.

Recommendations and Expectations.

Starting with the first picking, we suggested performing a complete cleaning of each of their lots, removing as many defects as possible that were caused by unfavorable conditions such as climate, infestations, sickness and bad management of the trees.

We also recommended to choose a sample of ripe cherries, depulp it, wash it and take it to Beneficio La Estrella to be dried.  This sample would be cupped in the laboratory, analyzed and classified to start evaluating the quality and provide feedback to producers. These samples were also used as type samples to send to potential new customers. 

Wet parchment ready to be delivered to Beneficio La Estrella to be dried.

Wet parchment ready to be delivered to Beneficio La Estrella to be dried.

Since January, we have seen these recommendations being fully implemented at our partner farms.  We have been evaluating in the fields small lots of coffee from these first pickings and despite the challenges seen this year most of them have been harvested in an excellent fashion, with ripe and healthy cherries.

The harvest is slowly progressing.  As of today (March 9, 2014), we have received a total of 642 lots to be dried at La Estrella from 62 producers. Drying has been slow due to constant cloud cover and lower temperatures than usual, having only 285 of the lots having finished drying. But the good news is that cup quality has been much higher than last year's, with very little lots being graded below AA-Grade.

We're extremely happy with the quality so far and are looking forward to a fantastic year for our producers and our customers.