Tierra Baja: Profitability at lower altitudes
Update to Global Coffee Monitoring Program
Tierra Baja doesn’t have the advantage of high altitude that many specialty-coffee-producing farms possess. The farm, whose name translates to “Low Land,” is located at 830 meters above sea level (m.a.s.l.), where growing high-quality coffee is a challenge. Farms at this altitude typically cannot grow coffee varieties susceptible to coffee leaf rust because their coffees will not earn a high enough price to cover the cost of fighting pervasive rust damage.
The main variety currently being grown at Tierra Baja is a standard-quality rust-resistant variety called Sarchimor T5296, developed in the 1980s in Central America in response to the arrival of rust in the region in the prior decade. But the variety has limitations—it is not especially high yielding, and it is not a uniform variety. One way the farm is working to overcome its constraints: Tierra Baja is hosting a research trial connected with the WCR’s Global Coffee Monitoring Program (GCMP). The trial brings two newer, improved varieties—Marsellesa and H1 Centroamericano—to Tierra Baja. The farm, which is owned by Mr. Antonio Arévalo and located in the Huizúcar municipality of El Salvador’s La Libertad Department, hopes the trial will provide them a path to growing high-yield coffee with optimal quality for the conditions of the farm (about 80 to 84 points in cup quality).
Mr. Arévalo’s goal with Tierra Baja—which is owned by milling and exporting business PROSERDI S.A. de C.V.—is to operate a profitable coffee farm. Understanding on-farm drivers of profitability is explicitly the purpose of the trial at Tierra Baja, where the new varieties are tested in a rigorous design together with different planting distances and temporary shade species to determine which combinations produce the highest profit.
On-farm research is especially valuable in countries like El Salvador where there is no national research entity dedicated to supporting agricultural research for coffee, and where there is no agent that supervises the genetic traceability of plants. Research alone will not solve all of the challenges facing Tierra Baja. Mr. Arévalo says El Salvador is still lacking access to financial credit for coffee producers, and suggests the country needs an efficiently supervised credit system that farmers like himself can participate in. But research is a critical ingredient in supporting farmers to respond to challenges, reduce their risk, and become profitable.
Read more about how farms like Tierra Baja participate in the Global Coffee Monitoring Program here.