By Ami Charitan, Prennial Crops – Chief Agronomist at Netafim Agriculture Department
Once roasted, all coffee beans look pretty much the same. But did you know that there are literally dozens of varieties of coffee beans? When it comes to your daily cup of coffee however there are only 2 varieties, Arabica and Robusta. They are the two primary types of coffee cultivated for drinking.
What’s the difference between the two? The two varieties differ in price, growing conditions and taste. Arabica beans tend to have a softer, sweeter taste with tones of sugar, fruit and berries. Their acidity is also higher.
Robusta has a harsher, stronger taste with a grain-like overtone and ‘peanutty’ aftertaste. They contain twice as much caffeine as Arabica and they are generally considered to be of inferior quality compared to Arabica. Some Robusta, however some are of a higher quality and valued especially in espresso for their deep flavor and good crema.
With global coffee consumption consistently increasing, along with rising awareness in ecology, environment and sustainability in food production, growers are in a constant search for more yields whilst preserving natural resources.
Growing Arabica beans in the tropical belt at relatively higher altitude poses very specific challenges. Brazil the biggest producer of Arabica has been making great strides in moving coffee crop production into previously hostile sub- tropical environments. With the help of drip irrigation systems, water and nutrients can be applied to the plants, leading to increased efficiency and yield. The results have been dramatic. Rain-fed crops produce 1.5 tons per hectare on average whilst crops grown using drip irrigation have been averaging 3 tons per hectare. Arabica crops grown in Tanzania have shown even more spectacular results with yields increasing from 400 kilograms per hectare to 2.5 tons per hectare.
Robusta coffee bean crops, which are grown extensively in Vietnam and other wetter tropic regions, pose a different set of challenges. Weather conditions and rainfall are completely different and the topography is challenging. Despite the adverse conditions, Drip Nutrigation have succeeded in increasing Robusta yield in India from 1200 kilograms per hectare for rain-fed crops to 3 tons per hectare and from 2.4 tons per hectare to 5.5 tons per hectare in Brazil.
These impressive differences come from the fact that we were able to supply water and nutrients to the plants during the dry months and efficiently apply fertilizers during the wet months.
Cacao a typical wet tropics crop is our latest crop to penetrate into, and the results are also very surprising here. In Bahia Brazil by adopting of a completely open field farming strategy & drip Nutrigation, Cocoa beans production increases from 400 – 500 kg per hectare rain-fed, we have reached 3 tons per hectare.
Of course, there is a need for significant investment in infrastructure and in-field drip systems, but return on investment can be justified by constantly rising prices reaching consistently high levels.