Ecoagricola Serra do Cabral
The Flanzer family began farming in the Serra do Cabral (in the Chapada de Minas at the north of Minas Gerais) in the 1970s, when Henrique Flanzer – father of Marcelo & Roberto – bought land to engage in forestry projects. For many years, Ecoagricola was almost purely run for forestry. However, in 2000, Marcelo and Roberto (who had taken over management of the farm) began planning for the next 30 years, at which point they decided to diversify. They chose coffee for the great fit with the region: altitude, climate, water & terroir were perfect for coffee production. We are glad they did! They planted their first coffee nursery in 2006 and their very first coffee harvest was in 2009. Even today, one of the most interesting facts about Ecoagricola is that there is no other company producing coffee in the Serra do Cabral. The brothers, like their father, are true pioneers.
Marcelo and Roberto, who have worked together since they were young, are the current managing partners of the company, and they manage the company with their father Henrique, who is now retired. Marcelo, 46, is a Production Engineer and Roberto, 48, is a Business Administrator. When they first began producing coffee, there were two big challenges that they had to face. Firstly, coffee had never been produced in the region before, so there was little infrastructure and no ‘accepted’ practices that had been developed and adapted over time for the region. The brothers were going to have to figure it out on their own. The only issue? Challenge number two: they had no background in coffee at all!
The brothers figured out that pivot irrigation was the way forward, taking into consideration water availability and terrain. Pivot irrigation (known variously as ‘waterwheel’ or ‘circle’ irrigation) is a method of crop irrigation where equipment rotates around a central pivot and crops are watered with sprinklers. The sprinklers will irrigate a circular area around the pivot point, often creating a circular pattern in crops when viewed from above. Center pivot irrigation typically uses less water compared to many surface irrigation and furrow irrigation techniques, which reduces the expenditure of and conserves water.
Over the course of 10 years, the brothers have succeeded in installing five pivots, all of which use LEPA (Low Energy Precision Application) technology. LEPA ensures that the plant canopy remains dry and water is applied directly to the furrow — typically every other furrow. Delivering water directly to every other furrow requires some special management and tillage practices, but also is one of the most energy and resource efficient means of irrigation. They have also installed weather stations and monitoring systems that help with inputs assessment. In 2016 they began utilising the “precision agriculture system”, which measures not only the average input needs for the whole plantation (traditional system) but also the different needs of every individual hectare. With the aid of GPS monitoring, they are able to ensure that each plant receives only the nutrients and water it needs, no more, no less. These measures have helped them to achieve their goal of marrying quality and sustainability. Although they are the new kids on the block, the quality of the coffee speaks for itself: highlighted be wining places in 2017 in the prestigious Cup of Excellence competition.
In many ways, sustainability and ethics are intrinsic to Ecoagricola’s origins. Many decades before sustainable production came into “fashion”, the family had already preserved vast areas within their land. Hundreds of hectares remain almost untouched. In fact, these concepts of preservation are built into the company’s very name: “Eco” refers to “ecological” and “Agrícola” means “agriculture”. According to Marcelo and Roberto, the very purpose of their agricultural business is to generate funding for ecological preservation. They’ve been incredibly successful and have, as of 2017, been re-certified by Rainforest Alliance with a grade of 97.7 out of 100.
Currently Ecoagricola only grows Yellow Catucaí and Red Catuaí 144. Red Catuaí 144 was chosen because it is the most used and tested variety at the ‘Cerrado’ biosphere in Minas Gerais. Yellow Catucaí was chosen after testing 15 different varieties at the property. It presented the best quality combined with very high productivity. Besides this, it has an earlier crop season compared to Catuaí 144, which has helped with planning labour during the harvest season. The brothers also have plans to introduce a small area of Yellow Bourbon in the near future.
Since 2015, Ecoagricola have embarked on a quality driven project for post harvesting with the University of Lavras (UFLA), coordinated by Professor Flavio Borém. Professor Broém is one of the world’s leading coffee quality researchers, and his advice has been crucial in informing the farm’s post harvest practices.
Lots are defined by variety and method (natural, pulped natural), and 100% traceability is maintained from the moment the cherry is picked. During quality control and sensory analysis, any quality issues can be traced back to the individual hectare, helping identify and prevent any future issues.
All coffee for nano and micro lots (such as this lot) is selectively hand harvested, and during the harvest season the farm’s work force of 50 doubles to 100 people, all of whom are trained in best practices. After the ripe cherries are picked, they are taken to the farm’s mill where they are processed using either the Natural or the Pulped natural method. The farm has also started experimenting with some Fully washed lots and other methods of fermentation, though this is in the very early stages.
Special care is taken with Pulped Natural lots, such as this coffee. After being picked, the coffee is hand sorted to remove any additional underripe or damaged cherries. The cherries are then machine pulped and delivery to dry on the farm’s extensive patios. Pulped Natural coffees are dried slowly so that they lose no more than 0.5% humidity per hour. Typically, on the first day, the parchment will be left on the patios (or raised beds) in a thin layer. After it begins to dry, over the following days, it will be turned regularly, making increasingly thicker layers until the drying parchment reaches around 15-18% humidity. The coffee is then usually finished in mechanical dryers, though some speciality micro-lots will dry entirely on the open-air raised beds.
The coffee is then dry milled at the farm’s own dry mill. In the near future, Ecoagricola plans to increase the capacity of their dry mill with densimetric tables and electronic eyes.
Ecoagricola is surrounded by areas of permanent preservation. The Reserva da Borralha, which adjoins Ecaogrícola’s area, boasts 2,000 hectares of land completely untouched by man and rich with biodiversity. Birds that migrate southwards from North America, stop there to rest and feed and the Concolor Puma roams through the undergrowth. The presence of this rare cat (whose face graces the Ecoagricola Serra do Cabral bags) is a definitive sign that all the food chain is present and preserved.
Intent on maintaining this special environment, Ecoagricola are members of the board of the Serra do Cabral State Park and contribute actively to their plans and actions. The farm’s sustainable education program was merged with the Park’s program, meaning that their message of conservation not only reaches their own employees but also the wider community. They also have a native-species nursery where they cultivate seeds collected around the farm, raise them to seedlings, and then donate them to the Park, neighbours, associations, city councils etc.
In addition to their conservation activities, Ecoagricola engages socially with the small farmer communities that surround them. They have helped many of these small farmers with “fiscal education” so that they will be able to sell the company produce for their canteen and also to other companies and markets. Marcelo and Roberto participate in their community meetings and try to find ways to think together as a community so as to help with challenges facing their neighbours. They also help directly by investing in specific community needs, such as school repairs, uniforms for students etc.
With so much being accomplished, the brothers now face the new challenges of continuing to increase the quality of their production and increasing access to appropriate markets for their coffees. At Mercanta, we are proud to pay a fair price for their work as pioneers in a new coffee region, and we look forward to helping them continue their social and environmental programs.
1- 2017 Cup of Excellence Winner – Naturals
2- 2017 Cup of Excellence Winner – Pulped Naturals
3- 2017 Rainforest Alliance / Imaflora Award 1st place
4- 2017 BSCA Aroma – Naturals 6th place
5- 2017 Minas Gerais Quality Contest 1st place Naturals, for Chapadas de Minas
6- 2017 Minas Gerais Quality Contest 1st place Pulped Naturals, for Chapadas de Minas
7- illycaffè’s Sustainable Supplier of the Year 2014/2015
8- 2015-2017 Ernesto Illy Prize for Espresso finalist for three consecutive years
9- 2017-2018 Coffee of the Year finalist
10- 2018 High Achievement on Sustainability award by Rainforest Alliance
These many prizes are a testament to the fact that Ecoagricola, virtually single handedly, “created” with success a respectable, new specialty coffee origin in Brazil, the Serra do Cabral.