Fighting roya in Guatemala

In January 2016 we went back to Guatemala to visit Finca El Hato and to see how they were doing in their fight against roya. We started working with El Hato in January last year after visiting the farm and meeting the owner Christian Rasch. Since then, El Hato has been a fundamental component in our seasonal Market Blend and is set to make its way back into the blend later this year.

The year 2016 brings with it the final year of a four year plan to replant the entire farm with roya resistant varietals. You can read more about our last trip in 2015 to El Hato here. As we approached El Hato, Christian Rasch, the farms owner pointed out dozens of farms littered along the roadside, each ravaged by roya. The affect is debilitating to coffee plants, causing them to drop their leaves until nothing is left but a bare stick in the ground. 

On arrival to El Hato we were first taken to view the 'Fighting Lot’. This small section of the farm was an experiment and has been set aside to be used as a litmus test to see what might have happened if the farm hadn’t embarked on a quest to completely replant the farm with roya resistant varietals. The trees in this section were Red Bourbon and had been sprayed with pesticide to control the effects of roya. Because of the foothold roya has in the surrounding area, these trees had to be sprayed six times in past year to prevent its effects. These trees were lush, tall and flourishing by all accounts. The cost of controlling roya's spread on this plot with such intensive use of pesticides was said to be comparable to the prices fetched from the coffee that was yielded from these trees. How this plot continues to grow over time will serve as good barometer for what actions to take in the future if such a disease were to strike again.

On arrival to El Hato we were first taken to view the 'Fighting Lot’. This small section of the farm (...) has been set aside to (...) see what might have happened if the farm hadn’t (...) completely replant the farm with roya resistant varietals.

From here we went to visit the one to three year old, roya resistant varietals. These were separated into distinct lots of varietals such as Icatu, Colombia, Catuai, Caturra, and Castillo. The varietals here were flourishing without any use of pesticides and no signs of roya. When the three year old trees mature at the end of this year ready for harvesting, the separated lots will be picked individually to gain a better understanding of two main points of interest: 1) How much each varietal is yielding and 2) How each varietal is tasting in the cupping bowl. This information will be very valuable for how the farm chooses which resistant varietals work best in this farms particular micro climate and so to focus on in the years to come.

 

Finally we visited the only section of the farm that is being harvested. This plot is made up of non roya resistant varietals, almost 100% Red Bourbon, and has been managed with the use of pesticides. This is the only division of El Hato that is in full production and sees the farm running at around one third of its total capacity. At the end of this year all these trees will be pulled out and replaced with resistant varietals, such as these small trees from the farms nursery.

This was another great trip and it was a treat to spend time with these generous people and to see how the farm continues to develop under such difficult conditions. We are committed to working with Christian and Finca El Hato for the years to come and will be following their progress with much anticipation.


By Tane Welton