Managing the Life Cycle of Coffee Trees

An important part of maintaining a consistent and productive operation as a large producer is tracking the life cycles of the coffee trees on each GCC farm. As harvest winds down in January 2022, certain trees that produced significantly less than in previous years will be cut down to their base. Our team is not killing the trees, rather, they are stimulating new growth that will reboot the productive cycle of the tree and ensure consistent production for the future.

The GCC team carefully tracks the conditions of its trees and schedules life cycles to maximize productivity and extend the lives of each tree. Around 20% of a farm’s land is in renovation at any given time. This stabilizes production year over year and creates a long term work schedule that is easily managed. Once the urgent work of harvest passes, the team shifts its focus to farm maintenance tasks such as lot renovation.

From the time a coffee tree is planted, it requires around 2 years before yielding quality cherries. Once mature, coffee trees flourish in a 3 to 5 year productive period, depending on conditions. After that, yields drop unless the tree is cut down to its stump (zoca in Spanish). “Stumping” trees stimulates new growth and essentially restarts their productive cycle. Two years after being cut down to its base, a coffee tree will produce cherries just like a young tree in its third year. 

The exact timeline of a life cycle depends on factors like climate, soil conditions, and access to nutrients. XFarm, our digital agronomy platform, gathers these metrics and presents farm conditions in far more detail than is commonly available in Colombia. Armed with solid information, the team better understands farm conditions and makes smarter decisions regarding lot renovations. This lends to a better use of resources (the coffee farmer’s greatest dilemma) and consistent yields of high-quality coffee.

Once a tree’s yield refuses to increase even after a stumping, it is time to plant a new tree. GCC planted over a million trees over the past 2 years! GCC agronomists noted that several lots on newly acquired farms needed replanting, so we took the opportunity to introduce new varieties that are known to produce outstanding coffees. 

The majority of newly planted trees are Caturra, a variety recognized for excellent cup quality and high yields. In addition we are planting Bourbon and Geisha, two sought-after varieties within the specialty coffee community. The team is also investigating conditions on Dolores, GCC’s highest elevation farm with an ideal climate, where we believe delicate varieties like heirlooms of Ethiopia will thrive. No one in Colombia has successfully produced heirloom varieties, so it would be exciting to be able to offer something new to the specialty community. These projects take time, but with careful management and diligent farm maintenance, GCC looks forward to exceptional crops in the coming years.