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Brazil's Farmers Seek Higher Coffee Profits

Bags of coffee beans are ready for market in a Garca, Brazil warehouse
Bags of coffee beans are ready for market in a Garca, Brazil warehouse

Brazil produces more coffee than any other country. Now, some Brazilian farmers want coffee drinkers to see Brazil as a producer of some of the best coffee in the world. The coffee-growing region of Sao Paulo state exemplifies how farmers are working to satisfy the rising expectations of coffee drinkers.

The coffee crop is in at Jose Renato Serra's farm in Garça. Farmer Jose Renato Serra said, "We are late in the season, and this is the last harvest."

After harvest, Brazilian coffee beans spend about three days drying in the sun, before being processed. Late beans like these are often collected after they've fallen on the ground, so they command the lowest prices.

Serra also grows high-quality beans. Like other farmers, he is looking at producing more of them. "Brazil produces 50 percent of the world's coffee. Half of Brazil's output is very low quality, but that is changing now."

Change begins here, at the nursery. Each year, Serra replaces some of his older coffee plants with new ones that can produce better, more expensive coffee. "A farmer must be ready for rapid changes, to find plants that are resistant to diseases and produce more beans," said Serra.

With demand soaring, global prices for coffee are up this year. Farmers around the world are benefitting from higher prices.

Brazil got an added boost this year, when U.S. financial experts suggested adding it to a select group of coffee-producing nations whose beans are traded on commodity markets.
That has opened up lucrative opportunities for Brazilian farmers, as well as challenges.

"Everyone these days wants a gourmet product," said Serra. "They want beans that have been washed, that have not been harvested from the ground. And they want good aroma and flavor."

Paulo Piancastelli and his wife Juliana see opportunities, as well. Juliana's father planted this farm a few years ago. Now they are starting their own in nearby Minas Gerais. The couple has taken a risk by leaving promising careers in finance. But they have a plan.

"If we can show our coffee comes from a well-known coffee region and uses environmentally-sustainable methods, then we can sell at higher prices," said Paulo.

The goal is to use the latest farming technology. Instead of relying on rain water, they plan to install irrigation and fertilization systems. And they are investigating methods of organic farming and conservation.

Although more expensive than a traditional farm, the pay-off could be greater.

"The question is whether prices will stay high until our farm starts producing in three years," said Paulo.

Serra believes in Brazil's future. He counsels Piancastelli and other Brazilian coffee farmers. "I tell all my clients that the only way to survive in this market is to produce more and more high-quality coffee that customers want to drink."

Here in Brazil, the seeds of that change are already growing.