My first visit to Brazil was in 2013, and I’d come away with the classic assessment, that it was a country of never ending coffee hills, humongous coffee processing plants, gigantic semi mechanical farms, and in general, felt there was a lost love for the art of coffee production. I’m happy to say, I was wrong…
It was a producer by the name of Marcelo Montanari, who showed me a different side to coffee production in Brazil. Marcelo studied agricultural engineering at the local university in Cerrado de Minas, and has used this education to put in place, incredibly detailed systems of farm management at his farms.
He Is dedicated to lowering the amount of emissions used by farms in Brazil, and has made the decision to use his farm, Fazenda Sao Paulo, as a showcase of how structured farm management systems can allow for positive reflections on nature. One system Marcelo uses to reduce carbon emissions on his farm is by letting the naturally occurring weeds grow very high in the rows between the coffee trees. Three to four times a year, Marcelo will cut down the weeds, and leave the cuttings in long piles, to rot and decompose. This has many positive flow-on effects; firstly its draws carbon out of the air and into the compost, that layer of compost will them become natural nurturance to help to enrich the soil, and with rain water and planned irrigation, it will flow into the soil surround the coffee trees.
Marcelo’s level of detailing on his farms is daunting; he has excel sheets detailing every single row and tree on his farm, including information on its variety, what fertilisers have been used, and how much irrigation an area has received. On the farm he has put in place water use readers, so they can accurately log water use. He has built a pond at the bottom of his farm, which will over time gather some of the water used for irrigation; he then pumps this water back up to a storage pond, to be reused as irrigation water. Every vehicle and energy using equipment on his farm has a gage on it, so that emissions/usage can be measured.
Marcello’s farm is not only provably carbon neutral, its carbon positive. The care and passion he shows is infectious, and we spent a long time trooping around his varietal garden talking about future plans for experimental varietals, other effective ways to reduce carbon emissions, and the future of specialty coffee in Brazil
In short, my Brazilian experience, reminded me to never judge a book by its cover, but by what you find inside.