Fazenda Pinhal is located in the Campo das Vertentes region of Minas Gerais. This impressive coffee farm is managed by Joao Newton Reis Teixeira, a 4th generation coffee farmer and his son Pedro Gabarra.
Picture: Newton Reis Teixeira, 4th generation coffee farmer
Picture: Pedro Gabarra, 5th generation coffee farmer
Passion, dedication and progressive thinking best describe these two amazing men who have championed the farms first female tractor driver, preserved 50% of their farm as forest and nature reserves, introduced new practices to resist droughts, and are setting up an exotic bird rescue sanctuary.
The farm employs 45 full time staff and during harvesting a further 50 to 60 seasonal staff. Fazenda Pinhal is an integral part of the community of Santo Antonio do Amparo and providing employment, fair pay, training, transportation and additional medical benefits to staff. Additionally they sponsor a tree planting program with the local school.
“What is essential to us is the human relationship, mutual respect, and also respect for the nature, and most of all, our passion for coffee. For me and for my family, coffee was never only coffee. For me coffee is the same as passion. Coffee is life. Coffee is movement.” – says Pedro.
During our origin trip to Brazil we had the opportunity to stay 4 days on Fazenda Pinhal. As it was harvesting season we had the rare chance to see and understand the seedling, harvesting, processing, hulling and exporting processes. But more importantly, we arrived as strangers and left as friends.
Some interesting facts about Fazenda Pinhal:
Fazenda Pinhal is UTZ, Rainforest and 4C certified. Its priorities are production efficiency, flora and fauna protection, optimise working conditions and replacement of artificial pesticides.
Brazil (particularly the amazon region) has extraordinary biodiversity, which unfortunately attracts wildlife traffickers. The majory of illegally traded wildlife are birds.
Wildlife seized from smugglers are generally young and many are in poor condition ie limp, injured, sick, or missing feathers. As a rule all the survivors are dehydrated and have been handled multiple times since being captured. Additionally, they have suffered during transport eg being stuffed in bags on motorbikes, stowed in storage bins under buses, or tossed in the trunk of a car, sweltering in the heat. Birds’ beaks are often taped to silence them.
After rescue the birds they need to be nursed before being able to be released back into the wild. Fazenda Pinhal is proud to have been approved as providing the unique natural environment to construct an aviary that allows for the seized birds to be nurtured back into health.
Fazenda Pinhal grows seedling of the varieties Acaia, Arara, Bourbon, Catigua, red Catuai, Yellow Catucai, Red Catucai, Yellow Icatu, Red Icatu, Red Mundo Novo, Yellow Topaz in their nursery. Seedlings remain in the nursery for between 6 to 9 months before being planted. Seeds must be purchased from registered suppliers to protect the integrity of the gene pool of coffee varietals. Some farmers who have purchased seedlings from unregistered suppliers have ended up with a mix of cultivars which were not what was ordered. The most popular cultivars have better pest and drought resistance.
Oldest coffee plant – the relict
The oldest coffee plants on Fazenda Pinhal is 48 years old. These trees are so tall (4meters+) that the only way to harvest the coffee cherries is by hitting the plants with long sugar cane like sticks. Whilst these trees understandably don’t yield much anymore they have pride of place on the farm and are lovingly referred to the ‘relict’ crop.
Sustainable approaches to changing weather patterns
Most farms in Brazil don’t use irrigation including Fazenda Pinhal. Rain patterns have been unpredictable with annual rainfall between 1139 and 2155 mm over the past 10 years. The vagaries of drought and heavy rain patterns are something all farmers have to face and are not unique to coffee farming. However how each farmer choses to respond is unique. Deforesting of land has been one contributor for changing climate patterns and the pursuit of higher yields and larger production areas has led to some farmers being large contributors to the cause. In Brazil medium and larger size farmers are required by law to preserve 20% of their farm land as natural reserve. Progressive farms such as Fazenda Pinhal have increased this amount to approximately 50% because of the soil improvements and water retention improvements that result. Fazenda Pinhal also uses the husk from the hulling throughout the coffee processing as a natural mulch for its coffee trees and is looking at varietals which are more pest and drought resistant. They are currently working on techniques to help grow a deeper root system of their coffee plants to access water naturally.
We all love the notion of hand picked coffee, however from a business perspective this is not always possible. Fazenda Pinhal deploys two harvesting machines throughout harvesting season from May to September and here are the reasons why:
Fruit typically ripens on the tree at around the same time. When fruit is ripe it needs to be harvested and can’t wait for pickers to be available otherwise it perishes.
Seasonal workers are in high demand throughout harvesting time and are sometimes in short supply.
As with any business, coffee farms have to be profitable and need to look for ways to respond to increased costs and fluctuating prices. Harvesting machines are up to 100 times faster compared to a coffee picker and can work 24 hours a day in season. On the flipside they require a large capital investment upfront and continuous maintenance and additional skills to operate.
Picture: Marchine harvest
One adverse implication of machine harvesting, is that all fruit ranging from perfectly ripe cherries to overripe coffee cherries are mixed together and must be separated during coffee processing.
The coffee is placed in a hydraulic separator where debris is separated from the cherry beans through a screening process. The coffee cherries are then moved into a water tank where the green and ripe ‘’sinkers’’ are separated from the "floaters" or overripe coffee cherries based on their buoyancy.
The coffee floaters are usually sent directly to the patio to be dried and are often sold to either large bulk buying clients or for the local Brazil market. The ripe and green cherries are sent to the patios to be dried using the natural process of preparing coffee or can be sent to the coffee pulping machines.
Brazil has a relatively strong legal framework supporting workers’ rights which also covers seasonal workers. Temporary workers also require a legal registered working contract, a ‘Carteira assinada’ which means an official registered contract as their official work document, the ‘Carteira Trabalho’.
Fazenda Pinhal employs about 50 - 60 sesaonal workers, most of whom are women, throughout harvest and pruning season. Fazenda Pinhal employs most of its workers from the local community at Santo Antonio do Amparo and provides shuttle service for their workers between the town and the farm. We spoke with some of the women pickers. Many of the women have been working on the for more than 10 years. It also provides them with an opportunity to earn an additional income whilst not being separated from their families as some other coffee pickers who come from poorer Brazilian states such as Bahia in the search for seasonal work.
Photo: Terezinha, seaonal coffee picker from Santo Antonio do Ampario
Whilst machine harvesting is one method of harvesting on Fazenda Pinhal, not all parts of the farm are accessible for machine harvesting. Also young coffee plants up to 5 years old are harvested by hand as they are too delicate for machine picking.
By no means is this work easy, however it provides reliable annual employment and additional income for women and their families with a pay equal and more to the minimum wage and is governed by the Brazilian labour code.
Women are often seen in fields manually harvesting coffee cherries or in undertaking administrative functions of a coffee farm. Fazenda Pinhal is quite progressive and has provided the opportunity for its first female tractor driver Dirlene.
Photo: Dirlene, first female tractor driver @ Fazenda Pinhal