Origin Update: India Ratnagiri Harvest 2022
Here we are in 2022 much as we were in 2021 – in the middle of a pandemic surge that is impacting all facets of our lives. School, work, health and well-being - our lives continue to be topsy-turvy. But for the most part we get on, we manage, and we have adapted to what has become more than a blip on our historical radars. Though much is disrupted in our lives today as it was a year ago, there is a more upbeat energy and sense of optimism from friends and coworkers around the world. We have learned from the past 24 months and have tools and knowledge at our disposal, giving us greater confidence and resiliency. This is no less the case in the coffee producing world, where, despite two years of pandemic chaos, we find main harvest underway and producers and exporters creatively stepping up to the challenge. India is a great example.
Ashok Patre, owner of Ratnigiri Estate, and supplier of excellent staple and microlot coffees to 49th parallel for a decade, has used the pandemic to outfit his farm, a couple of hours drive from Bangalore, with high speed internet and other upgrades, allowing him to shelter in place while continuing to conduct business as usual. Along the lines of the home offices many of us created in our spare bedrooms or living rooms during the pandemic, Ashok has built a self-sufficient “farm office” from which to operate during this most busy time of the year. Normally he would be back and forth from the farm to his home in the big city, but this year Ashok, along with his family, will be spending January and February on the farm, likely leaving only to purchase groceries in the nearby village as needed.
The current Omicron wave has already disrupted daily life in India, with lock-downs on the weekends and strict curfews every night. It is possible that travel from one district to another will be restricted very soon as cases escalate – this was the situation last year when the Delta variant devastated India and brought transportation to a halt. In any case, Ashok is prepared to run his business from the farm for the foreseeable future.
He has additionally spent the past month hiring enough labor to harvest his coffee in 2022. This was critical because if travel becomes restricted, he would not be able to hire additional workers from outside the district where his farm is located, putting at risk the entire harvest. Labor has been a major headache throughout the coffee growing world and Ashok expressed satisfaction at having contracted sufficient labor, though acknowledged the reality that labor costs, which represent 68% of total farm costs, have increased 30% this year. This is largely due to the increased cost of fuel, as much of Ratnigiri’s labor is transported in daily from nearby locations during the harvest.
In addition to labor increases due to fuel prices, the cost of inputs (such as fertilizers) has increased a staggering 65%. India has cut subsidies on farm inputs dramatically this year, telling farmers that they must compete globally with less government support. The impact of this free-trade policy will be felt next year, as this year’s harvest was grown using fertilizers bought at subsidized prices. To help mitigate the increased cost of fertilizers, Ashok has been honing in on a better and more efficient fertilization regimen, with a focus on foliar sprays and the addition of mineral fixing bacteria to the soil. Foliar sprays are absorbed by the plants almost immediately, and if timed correctly have less risk of being washed away, while increased microbial activity in the soil helps plants absorb nutrients such as potash (potassium), which are otherwise bound in the soil. Beneficial bacteria help with this process by increasing soil moisture levels, unlocking the minerals.
Finally, Ashok, together with 49th, is pushing to have coffee shipped as quickly as possible, given the continued shortage of shipping containers. This phenomenon, which impacted every industry in 2021, appears poised to disrupt transportation in 2022. The answer to these potential delays lies in planning ahead and shipping early. As such we prepared our contracts earlier than ever this year with Ratnigiri, giving them the green light to move forward with the harvest and processing of this coffee. This also allowed Ratnigiri to schedule a booking with a shipping line early, avoiding (or so we hope), the crush of requests coming at the peak of the harvest. In pre-pandemic times, this was rarely if ever a problem, there were multiple bookings and shipping lines to choose from – but today and for the foreseeable future, planning ahead is key.
According to to Ashok the harvest in 2022 will be just a little under the 2021 levels, due to normal harvest fluctuations. In general he states that increased focus on best practices, including careful fertilization and soil management, has allowed Ratnigiri to increase production to 500 kilos/acre in the past few years, compared to 150 kilos average in India, while avoiding large swings from one harvest to the next – a common phenomenon throughout India and the coffee growing world in general.
In addition to a healthy harvest overall, Ashok is excited by the micro-lots he will produce this year, including naturals, honeys, and controlled process coffees (yeast-fermented and anaerobic fermentation). Early results for 2022 look promising and in the meantime we are excited to be offering right now our 2021 Ratnigiri microlot selections, including an outstanding Catuai Honey (click here), an Anaerobic Natural and a Washed. These coffees arrived in the fall and are being rolled out one at a time – we are absolutely in love with them and we hope you like them as well. They are smaller lots and we encourage you to order soon before they are gone!
We had planned on a visit to India this harvest season to see all of the wonderful work on Ratnigiri, but realize this will not be impossible for some months and possibly not until next harvest. We are continually grateful for the ability to easily connect with our partners such as Ashok Patre, despite travel restrictions, and look forward to regular updates from the “farm office” throughout the harvest.