It was fantastic for me to return to Daterra in early September, after not having visited our coffee-producing partners for more than four years due to my previous role as CEO. Daterra is the farm with which we have the longest relationship since we first sourced coffee from them back in 2006 for Klaus for the World Barista Championship.
Daterra is by far the largest coffee farm we work with, covering close to 3,000 hectares of land and producing around 80,000 bags of coffee every year. They employ approximately 400 permanent workers and around 200 seasonal workers during harvest time. Thus, even though they are not very large in the Brazilian coffee industry, they are very different from the other farmers we work with.
Innovation in Brazilian coffee
What makes them very interesting for us to work with is that they continuously invest in improving the quality of their coffee as well as the sustainability of their business. For instance, they continuously invest in research and act on the knowledge they thereby gain. That was why we sourced coffee from them in 2006, as they had put a lot of resources into understanding how to make the best coffee for espresso. On this, they are still one of the most knowledgeable producers around the world. They continue to invest in improving the quality of their products, as their processing plant demonstrates, where they have an impressive setup of fermentation tanks for making micro-lots with all kinds of different post-harvest processes.
But they are also front-runners in terms of sustainability, a stance they have maintained since they started growing coffee more than 30 years ago. Right from the outset back then, they made the fundamental principle that out of the total farm size of 6,600 hectares of land, they would always leave at least half uncultivated in its natural state. They were later the first farm in Brazil to become Rain Forest Alliance certified, as well as the first coffee producer in the world to become B Corp certified.
They have several agronomists on the farm, like João Caldos Rais, who we work with on the Our Plot project, as well as an on-farm Head of Sustainability, Crysthara Lucia Alves dos Reis, who oversees and develops sustainability activities and projects on the farm.
Danish and Brazilian agriculture side by side
A primary focus for me this year was trees and forests. For the sake of the environment, there is an increasing focus on shade trees in coffee growing, as well as forest coffee. Driving to Daterra, we passed both the classic Brazilian coffee lots with long rows of coffee monoculture and a phenomenon that I hadn't noticed before in Brazil – namely, monoculture Eucalyptus tree farms. Brazil is now the world's top exporter and producer of eucalyptus roundwood and pulp. Eucalyptus plantations in Brazil are ecologically very harmful as they consume large quantities of water, support a very low diversity of flora and fauna, and require high pesticide and fertilizer use. It's another form of monoculture farming.
When driving along these farming landscapes, I was reminded of the Danish landscapes, and I thought they actually looked quite similar to what is here in Minas Gerais with its soft hills. In Denmark, it's also easy to drive along kilometers of monoculture farming land, and it's probably worse in Denmark since we only have less than 4% wild nature left.
More than 3,000 hectares of uncultivated farmland
As mentioned earlier, Daterra has, since the beginning of their coffee farming, worked on the principle of cultivating less land than they leave uncultivated. We had a tour around these uncultivated parts of their farm, and it was interesting to see the diversity in these ecosystems. As can be seen from the map of their farm, most of the uncultivated land is around the rivers they have on their land, which is also great for the water environment. To compare this to Danish standards, in 2012, Danish law established that it was no longer legal to cultivate land closer than 10 meters from a watercourse or lake. Whereas Daterra leaves 3,600 hectares of land uncultivated to protect nature around the watercourses on their land, in Denmark, one only has to leave a 10-meter zone untouched.
Last year, Daterra had the organization Imaflora conduct an analysis of the CO2e balance of their coffee production. The result was that, with all their efforts, they sequester more CO2e than they emit. Actually, the numbers showed that for each kilo of green coffee we buy from them, 1.16 kg of CO2e have been sequestered in their systems.
Aside from this, Daterra has set the goal of planting 20 million trees before 2030. We saw some of their pilot projects involving the planting of native trees in the Cerrado nature.
Our Plot brings biodiversity to life
Cerrado is the second-largest vegetation type in Brazil after the Amazonas. Cerrado consists of different types of savanna with more or fewer trees. More trees are typically found around the rivers, and fewer trees in the land further from rivers. These areas with more savanna-like characteristics have been classified according to the height of trees. One type has only a few trees up to 3 meters tall, another type with more trees around 4 meters, and others with more and higher trees. Daterra wants to respect these natural types and plant trees that will fit into this.
News from Our Plot
Our Plot at Daterra can be seen as a project where we try to increase biodiversity in a coffee lot in a way that mimics the natural Cerrado nature types of low vegetation. We also explore at Our Plot how we can take an ecosystem approach to building resilience, rather than just focusing on the resilience of individual coffee varieties. Some of the good results we see now at our plot include the native nitrogen-fixing Inga trees thriving, as well as the Geisha trees. Even though the latter are struggling somewhat with leaf rust and leaf miner, it doesn't seem to be more than they still thrive and had a good flowering, promising a good harvest for next year. Unfortunately, the bourbon trees were suffering too much, especially due to leaf rust, which they are very prone to.
To try and help the coffee trees, we decided to do two things. Firstly, to thin out the lines from 60 cm between each tree to 1.8 meters (there are 3.8 meters between the lines of trees). Secondly, we want to improve diversity by changing every second bourbon tree with the Harrar variety. The Harrar variety was chosen, among other things, because it originates from a part of Ethiopia with a climate comparable to that of Cerrado. All the organic material that will be thinned in this process will be left in the ecosystem of Our Plot. Small branches will be chopped and built into the soil, and larger branches will be used to protect the coffee trees.
So, all in all, it's very exciting to see the development at Daterra in general and Our Plot in particular. From the first cuppings of the coffee from Our Plot, it's also great to see that the quality is good. The aim for Our Plot has always been to try and achieve the same high quality as Daterra normally does but in a way with higher biodiversity and natural resilience in the coffee lot. To make this comparison more clear, we will roast the Our Plot coffee for espresso this year, where Daterra's coffees in general really excel. Look out for it when it arrives on the shelves early next year.