Like any other agricultural activity, coffee cultivation affects the environment as it involves modifying the original landscape to produce valuable goods for human consumption. However, this impact does not have to be negative. Crops such as coffee and cocoa can be handled and procured while preserving natural resources and local flora and fauna.
Shade Grown Coffees promote natural habitat and tree vegetation preservation in coexistence with coffee farms. Having ample amounts of natural tree shade allows birds to thrive, which results in a decrease in insect populations, thus reducing the need for pesticides. Shade Grown farming methods will also enable farmers to reduce their production costs by decreasing the use of unnatural chemicals and pesticides.
The main reason farmers choose between shade-grown coffee over open coffee plantations is usually related to economic focus dependent on geological factors. Open plantations statistically yield higher production. Due to sun exposure, the growth rate for open plantation coffee is more elevated than shade-grown coffee. However, evapotranspiration rates of coffee plant leaves also increase, meaning they demand more water and the application of fertilizers to sustain plant growth.
Open coffee plantation has other advantages as well. For example, in Brazil, the regions where the topographical conditions allow, coffee is grown in rows harvested by special machinery, lowering the cost of labor for the farmers. While this is much more efficient in flatter land areas, shady plantations are better suited for success in mountain areas where it is impossible to automate the harvest.
Another major issue that must be acknowledged is the relationship between open plantations and deforestation, and a lack of biodiversity. Like any other crop, coffee cultivation requires the modification of the landscape. Specifically, this means that native trees must be cut to develop coffee plants, resulting in a decrease of natural habitats for several animal species. In shady plantations, integrating coffee farming with other more giant trees yields more significant conservation of biologically diverse vegetation.
Scientific research from several institutions from coffee-producing countries such as Colombia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, shows that soils from shady plantations are more active microbiologically in shaded plantations than in open plantations. Nutrients from the canopy can recirculate and feed the coffee plants, requiring less fertilization than open plantations. Additionally, the use of small amounts of chemical fertilizers can be productive for the growth of smaller plants.
Factors such as plantation density and the distance between coffee plants are also critical. Technicians and farmers must evaluate these elements based on the region and climate to balance profit and low-impact agriculture. These factors determine the type and number of secondary crops or trees within the plantation so that the incident of excessive shade can be avoided. Excessive shade is harmful to the development of coffee plants as it can increase the incidence of pests and pathogens due to the lack of sun, wind, and increases in humidity.
Coffee is a significant source of profit for many small farmers worldwide, and most of them grow coffee under the shade of fruit trees. This is due to is the benefit of depreciation of herbicides and other expensive products that can be avoided with proper maintenance and support from the coffee industry.
Shade-grown coffee has a better approach to natural cultivation. This is especially true for many of the regions from which Volcanica Coffee imports. This helps make the bean quality much higher for customers, while also encouraging sustainable practices for farmers worldwide.