The Problem of Organic Coffee Low Yields

We have written time and time again about the benefits of organic coffee both to the consumer and to the environment. However, the vast majority of coffee farmers do not bother with organic coffee. The reasons are that it is a lot more work to grow organically, the costs are greater, yields are less, and the prices that organic growers receive for their coffee do not justify organic coffee farming on strictly a financial basis. One can argue that sustainable agriculture has its own rewards, but that does not keep a coffee farmer from going broke during a couple of bad years! A major issue is the problem of organic coffee low yields.

Lip Service From the Organic Coffee Consumer

Here at we frequently get requests for coffee from Colombia, both regular Arabica and organic. The coffee that we can provide is extremely high quality but consumers are generally not interested in paying the markup for shipping, for Colombian coffee, and for organic coffee. Because Colombian coffee farmers are not interested in giving away their high quality coffee for less than market value, folks are not getting their coffee. Thus, Colombian coffee farmers go back to farming sustainably but without organic certification. The point is that many folks give lip service to organic coffee but are unwilling to pay a price that would make organic coffee production financially viable for someone growing coffee in the Cafetero Colombiano.

The Problem of Organic Coffee Low Yields

The Problem of Low Organic Coffee Yields and Low Prices

Less than 7% of land used to cultivate coffee is dedicated to organic coffee. However, organic coffee production is much less than 7% of the total. Comparison studies have been carried out in several countries. Organic coffee yields lag by as little as a few percent to as much as 44%. Our own experience at is that many coffee growers that we have known have tried organic coffee and given it up. First reason commonly given is that they have to pay for certification and are not getting any more money for their coffee. This comes from folks who have been essentially organic but without official certification for years. The point is that not only does the price not make farmers go organic but they have to fight the yield issue. Thus the coffee farmer needs to make up for lower yield, more production costs, and an inadequate price which any business person is generally not willing to do.

Why Is Organic Coffee Yield Low?

A lot of organic coffee is shade grown. This generally results in a finer coffee. It also reduces the yield. However, the main reason that yields for organic are lower than regular is fertilizer. Commercial fertilizers are an efficient way to provide nutrients to the soil. When the organic coffee farmer goes with organic fertilizers they often find it difficult to get enough. Commercial fertilizer provides 40 kilograms of nitrogen to a hectare of land with between 90 and 270 kg. It requires more like 2000 kg of organic fertilizer to provide the same 40 kg of nitrogen per hectare.

Cost Versus Availability of Organic Fertilizer

Hog farmers in Iowa commonly use hog manure to fertilize their corn or soybeans. This sort of self-contained farming is very efficient. Coffee farmers in the mountains of western Colombia do not have large hog operations side by side. Thus they need to make do with compost and other lesser sources of nutrients and thus lower coffee yields. Alternatively the coffee farmer can pay to have huge amounts of organic fertilizer shipped to them and pay the extra cost which will not be recouped by a higher price for their coffee.

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