El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana

El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana
The Conquistador who put the Amazaon baisn "on the map"....Francisco Orellana

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Preparing for the future....the Noble profession of farming in Ecuador

As many people are rethinking priorities many are considering farming as a business or “going back to the land” as a lifestyle from a previous more innocent era of the pre-industrial world. I must admit….it has been a little of both for us here in Ecuador. And…..for someone that has never farmed before……it has been a very learning and yet rewarding experience. To me...there is something "noble" about farming...the idea of patience, hard work, and producing something natural.....Paternally for the family.

From the start……our family had three main goals in owning a farm…..
1) The need for a “cash crop” for business purposes.
2) A weekend and vacation get-a-way to escape the city life and enjoy time in solitude by myself or with the family
3) Considering today’s economic uncertain world…..a place to exist independently that will allow one to live off the land.

We believe we are on our way to accomplish all three of these goals but as with any farm….time is of the utmost consideration. We will share our experience with you in hopes that we can save you some of the initial pitfalls and maybe entice some more foreigners to join us…..….

Our original goal of the “cash crop” was tourism. However, I quickly found out how out of touch I have become with the typical foreign tourist. I honestly failed in my first several attempts to accurately judge the needs and ideas of our guests and concluded that I could not simply “relate” to the typical tourist that wanted to stay on a farm. The bottom line is….I have been gone too long from my native country!

Nonetheless, we have maintained our cabins which allows my family and friends to make frequent visits and maybe in the future we can open it up to certain visitors that want to experience our business first hand.

Therefore….we needed a new “cash crop”. There are many of these in Ecuador….Cacao (chocolate), banana, and other assorted exotic fruits. I want to mention that to have a “cash crop”…it should be something that can be exported. I want to also add that we are not big on animals….we had cows, bulls, mules, chickens, turkeys, horses and tilapia fish. They are all just a notch below a child in the manner of responsibility and “care” one needs to give. Working with plants is much easier. The sole exception in our area is the mule….that is the best animal a farmer can have.

Based on much research and influence from other neighbors at the farm….our new “cash crop” is now coffee. We intend on doing this on a big scale and will now give a brief summary of how we should be successful.

1) Purchase your property
The best type for coffee is to look for an elevation between 1,000 and 1,500 meters from sea level…and we wanted it less than a two hour drive from Quito. We found it in our area of Pacto which is before the more well known area of Mindo.

We also believe the best type of soil is the type worked by cattle. Find some property that had cows grazing on it for many years with their “fertilizer”. This type of ground is excellent and full of nutrients!

The typical price per hectare in our area averages between $2,000 and $4,000 per hectare (2.54 acres). We know of coffee farmers that are exporting with as few as only 4 hectares but we believe for export you are better off with between 15 to 20.

2) Grow crops to start.
The ground that has been used by a cow pasture will not be accustomed to planting so you will need to work it and turn it over. If necessary…..you will need to kill any vegetation on the field with an all natural organic weed killer. The first crop we plant is corn (four months) to prepare the soil and strangle off any previous plants. Then…we come back with Yucca (six months) which is great to turn over the soil and prepare it for the coffee. Yucca is very similar to potato. I also want to mention that coffee grows best with a little shade. You can use banana trees or as we are using…..Guaba which gives not only shade but great fruit and added nutrients to the ground. This tree reminds us of a small oak tree in appearance These plants take two years to grow and are planted at the same time as your Yucca. The good thing about these two crops is that they will give you some small income before your coffee starts to produce.

3) During the Yucca stage you will begin your seeding process. The seeds are placed in a bed of soil and after two months are then placed in bags. After four months in the bag ……they are ready to place in the soil. Believe it or not….there are coffee associations in Ecuador that will give you coffee beans free. Nonetheless, we are experimenting with our own bean by crossing other beans and brining more famous beans in from Colombia.

We are currently still in the growing stage and have not ventured into the processing stage. That requires some machinery and intend on getting into that in years to come. The drying, shedding and roasting stage is the real “art” of coffee which places it on a level with wine.

We have calculated that farming 7 hectares of coffee should gross between $3,000 and $4,000 per month in today’s money. Of course…that is before labor which is an important aspect but not a extremely big expense typically $270 per month.
We have only one on site laborer Inez who has been on the farm for 10 years including the previous owner. She is on permanent salary and we intend on paying temporary pickers by the bag when it is time to harvest.

The downside to Coffee is that it normally takes five years to produce and has a life of 15 years per plant. But in the meantime…you can sell locally your corn, yucca and any other production you might have: In our case….we have an abundant amount of Banana but that does not give a good price locally. Yucca now seems to have a good price locally. Nonetheless…..we only hope to break even now and cover our costs.

As for the marketability of Coffee….the price has doubled in the past 8 months and there is no end in sight. China is opening up a huge market and Latin America is known for the best quality coffee in the world. As one American recently commented at our Coffee shop “Dios no muere” in Quito……”Coffee is the last legal drug the US government has not made illegal”.

I do not consider myself Juan Valdez but if anything…….I am convinced that income producing property (especially farming) is one of the best sources for income in my latter years of life (I do not believe in the word “retirement”) and also as a legacy for my children. You may see shortly that governments (Social Security) will not be able to take care of you anymore and you will need to look for more traditional forms of a “safety net”. The type of safety net the world used to know before the intervention of the central government welfare state came into existence. May the peace of God be with you!

Interested in more information or on how we can help you become a farmer in Ecuador????? Send us an email at colonialquito@yahoo.com or come by for a cup of coffee at our Casa de Café in Colonial Quito!

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