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June 10, 2011

Renewed Interest in Coffee Production in Northern Parana, Brazil

The production of coffee was the main agricultural activity in northern Parana for decades and it was coffee that was the principal stimulus behind the formation of most agricultural cooperatives in the northern part of the state. But starting during the decade of the '60s, coffee started to lose acreage to soybean, corn, and sugarcane production. A series of frost in the '60s and the '70s also killed many of the coffee trees and lowered the productivity of the trees that survived. The decline in coffee production in Parana continued over the decades, but that may now be changing.

The renewed interest in coffee is the result of high coffee prices. From 2010 to 2011 the price of a sack of coffee (60 kilograms) nearly doubled from R$ 260 to R$ 500. At these high prices, farmers and cooperatives are starting to take a second look at coffee production.

A lack of cheap and abundant labor is forcing potential coffee growers to look at the use of mechanical coffee harvesting. Agronomists for local cooperatives feel that within 5-10 years all the coffee production in northern Parana will be mechanized and manual harvesting will be a thing of the past. Mechanical harvesters are expensive and can cost up to R$ 300,000 to R$ 400,000, but cooperatives can share the cost across their membership. All aspects of coffee production are becoming mechanized including planting, spraying, irrigating, and harvesting.

One of the largest cooperatives in Parana, Cocamar, was founded in 1963 by 46 coffee growers, but coffee lost acreage in the subsequent decades to row crops and sugarcane. One of the final reasons for coffee's departure from northern Parana was a severe freeze in 1975 that destroyed many of the coffee trees. Producers removed the dead trees and many started to plant soybeans and corn instead of coffee and never returned to coffee production.

The cooperative tried to revive coffee production in the region in the 1990s by introducing a dwarf type of coffee tree that occupied less space allowing more trees to be planted per hectare. The new type of coffee yielded up to three times more than traditional coffee, but low coffee prices kept interest in coffee production at low levels.

Recent high prices have once again renewed interest in coffee production. The Cocamar cooperative just purchased a new coffee harvester that reduces labor cost by 40% and can do in one week that took three months to do by hand.