June 6, 2015

How Much Does It Cost a Farmer to Plant a Basic Plot?


The coffee harvest is now finished in Guatemala and every coffee farmer’s attention is now focused on the upcoming planting season and preparation for next year’s crop.

Spanish Version: ¿Cuánto le Cuesta a un Caficultor Sembrar una Parcela Básica?

Some will merely be replacing plants that failed to make it through the six-month rainless summer, others will be uprooting and replanting old roya-infested plants and others will be planting coffee for the first time. This article will focus on one very important question regarding coffee. What on earth does it cost to plant a micro-plot of coffee?

A man planting a coffee tree

The rain has arrived and planting season is upon us! Credit: @fincalsuelo

The basic plot size that we’ll be using for this article is a manzana of approximately 7,000 square meters. This is a standard unit of measurement for plots of land here in Guatemala and many parts of Central and South America. The cost of a manzana varies a lot here in Guatemala depending on its location whether it has been cleared of trees, if it is flat or on a mountainside and if it has been cleared of rocks. For the sake of this article, we’re going to have to assume that our example farmer already owns his own land to simplify the process of calculating the cost of starting a micro-plot.

Coffee cherries with beautiful landscape

A manzana is a standard unit a measurement for land in Central and South America. Credit: @iain.macfarlane

What Is the Basic Cost of Planting a Manzana of Coffee?

A manzana will generally require around 3,200 coffee plants and 50 shade plants to provide the plants with significant cover from the sun. A coffee plant here in Guatemala can cost between Q2.50($0.32) for a plant like tekisic (a dwarf bourbon arabica coffee variety) all the way up Q15($1.95) for a Geisha. So going with the cheapest plant option and minimum shade plants we’re looking at around Q8,000 ($1,038) just to purchase the coffee. Of course, the cost of planting Geisha is significantly higher running closer to 42,000 ($6,262) just for the coffee plants!

Coffee plants in beautiful landscape

Thousands of coffee plants at a nursery awaiting the planting season. Credit: @culpancoffee

SEE ALSO: Bribery & Corruption: Running A Cafe In An Undeveloped Nation

Now for the shade: banana plants are one of the best and most popular options for coffee shade as they have been shown to produce a 50% increase in income than either crop planted by itself due to the mutual relationship between banana and coffee. Additionally, banana is believed to be an important plant in helping to sustain coffee crops in the years to come as fears continue to grow in regards to rising global temperatures. Banana plants are shown to lower the temperature of the coffee plants around them by 2-degree celsius or more, which could possibly make a huge impact on coffee farms all over the world in the years to come. Banana grows in such abundance here that people often give away the plants for free to neighbors or friends, but when you do have to buy them they can cost around Q10($1.30) per plant. In the event that the farmer does have to pay, it will work out to around Q500($65) for the 50 plants.

Banana plants with their large leaves

Banana plants with their large leaves help to increase crop income by 50% and lower the temperature by two -degrees celsius helping to keep the plant healthier. Credit: costaricalearn.com

In addition, the farmer will need to pay around Q50($6.50) per person, per day to carry, dig holes, and plant the plants. All that plus the amount he spends in gas transporting the plants to his farm from the nursery. The cost of this part of the planting process can vary greatly as well because if the plot is already cleared of underbrush, it can go a lot faster and cost less in manual labor. Assuming that there are two workers planting the 3,200 plants and that the field is already cleared for planting it would take around two weeks (at least) to plant the coffee. This adds an additional cost of Q1200($156) to our previous subtotal of Q8,500($1,103) to plant a single manzana of tekisic coffee, bringing our overall estimated cost to Q9,700($1,259) plus the amount it runs the farmer in transportation costs.

Planting a plot with coffee that runs Q2.50($0.32) a plant may not seem like a huge cost, but it has been previously calculated that 60% of the population of Guatemala makes less than the annual minimum wage, which this year (2015) the minimum wage works out to $4,000 annually. That makes investing in a coffee plot a very expensive endeavor for the average farmer and on top of that he will have to wait a minimum of three to four years before he sees a decent cash flow being produced by his investment.

This, of course, is just the calculation of the cost to plant coffee and we haven’t even talked about how the farmers go about choosing what variety of coffee to plant or what the costs are to maintain a manzana of coffee look like! Plant variety selection, fertilizers, fumigations, harvesting the coffee and selling the coffee are all very important parts of running a coffee farm and we will, in a later article, look at these important issues.

Article edited by H. Wilson

A special thanks to Christian Frost of Girón and Don Carlos Donado for your collaboration.

If you would like more information about growing coffee and bananas together please read: Coffee + bananas: a climate smart combination.

Perfect Daily Grind.