The Different Types of Coffee Farming

Farms & Plantations


Coffee beans are currently grown on plantations in more than 70 countries. Most Australian coffees are sourced from coffee farms in different countries where the environmental conditions make for a good quality plant. Generally speaking, the closer to the equator, the better the plant.


The best coffee beans are found on farms with very rich but porous soil, from areas with steady temperatures of around 20ºC. Temperatures can vary from anywhere between 15-25ºC and still remain healthy; even the slightest frost can kill an entire crop.


Technically, the coffee bean isn’t actually a bean, it’s a seed that’s found inside a fruit that grows on certain trees. Coffee trees are normally pruned to 2m shrubs on plantations, which also encourages lateral branching. This means plantations are able to garner a high yield of plants to make the most of their limited space. It takes around five years before a planted tree will yield its first fruit. Even then, it may not be ready to harvest until up to nine months after it flowers, and most trees will only grow a crop of about 1kg in their lifetime. One kilogram of coffee is usually equal to about 2,000 individual beans.


The beans found on coffee trees are normally mutations of the Arabica or Robusta varieties. Arabicas produce about 70% of the worldwide harvest, with Robustas responsible for the rest. The country that produces the most coffee beans is Brazil, where a third of all coffee beans come from. Arabicas and Robustas are native there and have been since Brazilian coffee farms first started in the early 18th century. In Brazil, and in other big producers such as Colombia and Indonesia, coffee is a commodity that benefits the economy greatly. In several countries, the monetary value of coffee exports even outweighs the value of oil.


Since several coffee plants grow best at high altitudes, transporting harvesting machinery up steep hills is impractical. Most plantations employ farmers instead to hand-pick coffee beans off the plants, with workers having to know which beans to throw away and which ones to keep.


The coffee plants need to be watered as often as possible in order to keep the soil moist and require effective drainage to stop the soil from getting too damp. The soil on a plantation needs to be replenished with a balanced fertiliser every 2-3 months to keep the plants healthy, particularly in spring and summer when the plants tend to struggle through the heat.


Once the cherry containing the seed turns a bright red colour, workers harvest the cherries before they are processed.



There are 25 million coffee farmers in the world, many of whom work in labour-intensive conditions and receive little financial benefit. Several coffee producers have begun forming their plantations into cooperatives, where they share the farm land to maximise their economic potential.


Cooperative coffee farms aim to improve their administrative structure and increase their production volume, all while ensuring that the workers are treated fairly and the practices are performed sustainably. Cooperatives are particularly popular in Central America and Ethiopia, where Fairtrade conditions have contributed to societal projects such as school funding, health improvements, clean water and new infrastructure.


When cooperatives are certified by Fairtrade, they receive a premium paid on top of their normal profit to go towards social, environmental or economic development projects for the needs of producer groups. Buying Fairtrade certified coffee is an environmentally and socially responsible way to conduct trade and benefit the societies in which these cooperatives operate.


For instance, the Highland Organic Agriculture Cooperative (HOAC) achieved Fairtrade certification in 2005 and has used its premium to contribute to developments in water infrastructure and childhood education locally. The Neknasi Coffee Growers Cooperative Society in Papua New Guinea was also Fairtrade certified in 2011, and is using its premium to develop a new water source closer to the villages in their city.


Processing on cooperative farms follow a similar process to regular plantations. The fruit is either wet or dry processed, depending on the type of seed and desired flavour. In both processes, the beans are removed from the fruit and then categorised based on their size, how they were picked, where they were grown and their taste. This step is called grading. Cooperatives tend to grade their beans with criteria that differ from conventional specifications in order to create a higher level of quality. When cooperative harvesters are able to export coffee beans of a higher premium, this helps to boost their economic benefit.

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