Coffee Break with Rafael Ventura of Finca Rabanales
As Guatemala has one of the most established specialty coffee farming industries in the world, farmers are always seeking new ways to improve and diversify. This passion for excellence in combination with 340 diverse microclimates results in Guatemala producing some of the worlds most delicious and unique coffees.
Visiting Guatemala in off-season - as farmers are planning and preparing for next harvest - means that the farmers have the time to meet and chat at length. During my visit to Guatemala last month, I met with Rafa Ventura, a fourth generation coffee farmer from the Fraijanes region. His family runs Finca Rabanales, whom we have been working with for a few years now.
We spoke about innovation, technology, sustainability, what working with Coffee Bird means to the Ventura family, and about how the next upcoming generation of coffee farmers are shaking things up!
FINCA RABANALES OFTEN WORKS ON RESEARCH AND INNOVATION PROJECTS. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
"We have done a lot of research into drip irrigation. We started about three years ago, a small lot, 1 hectare, with drip irrigation. We saw the good results we got by controlling the water activity in the soil. Because of the issues with climate, the weather can change so much.
In 2016, we had very difficult time with a shortage of rain. Usually we get rain from May through November. In that year the rain stopped early September and we didn’t get any rain through until the next May. So the crop of that year suffered a lot because it didn’t mature right.
Also, the following harvest, the plant was not correctly prepared for blooming. We thought it would be good to install drip irrigation, so if we had this situation again we can essentially extend the rainy season.
Last year we extended to 12 ha, and this week we started installing for another 11 ha. The idea is to have 30 ha installed with drip irrigation. We have seem some results from Colombia and Guatemala that some plantations have increased their production with irrigation: they have healthier plants and we think if they are healthier they will be more prepared for fungus and roya.
At this moment, because of the rain, we have a lot of under-matured cherries, we think it is because of the nutrition. The idea is if we can start giving the plants nutrition through the irrigation system, we can give it to them all year. Not just when it rains. We only feed 1-2 times a year now, but we want to establish a program to feed the plants every 1-2 weeks with what they need. The cost should be covered by the increase of volume and the increase of quality."
HOW WILL IRRIGATION CHANGE YOUR FARM?
"There are a lot of things people are saying about irrigation systems, but one is that you don’t need shade trees anymore. We still think it is necessary, at least for us.
The trees control the humidity and moisture in the soil. If there are no trees, the soil will dry faster and then you would need to use more water. The trees also add a lot of organic material to the soil.
The other day I heard a comment that when you combine species, sometimes they can protect each other. If we have an attack of a specific insect, they may be attracted more to one species. So it's still better to have a mix!"
HOW HAS WORKING WITH COFFEE BIRD HELPED YOU AND YOUR FAMILY?
"For us, our relationship with Coffee Bird is so important, as we can get feedback on what we are doing and what can be expected to improve. We know that not all of our coffee can be sold as high quality coffee, but we now know that because of the weather and our varieties we have specialities.
We didn’t used to know how our coffee taste! We wouldn’t know if our coffee was good or bad - an exporter would just ask ‘we need some SHB coffee, you have any?’ and then we were just told where to bring it!
Now we can go one step ahead to learn how our coffee tastes. We know now that typica tastes different from bourbon or caturra, and that the coffee from one lot tastes different from another. It’s a change in our mind!"
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE? WILL YOUR CHILDREN KEEP FARMING COFFEE?
"Right now, our farm is in the fourth generation. We already have my niece working in the office and my nephew helping with production and the operating of the beneficios.
I think the next generation is going to keep taking care of the farms. In our case, our kids will just have a different mindset because they had a chance to see the world. My son just finished studying abroad. He thinks he can use a lot of his learning and what he has seen in other places.
We invest a lot in technology, and that is one way we can get the coffee business to grow. Anacafe's symposium last week was to promote the use of technology and to innovate in production and processing. I think the next generation will use all the tools and technology available to keep our farms going, not necessarily just staying with the traditions."