Meeting Professor Val Macanes at the Benguet State University

It’s almost a year when the coffee project started. The first person I contacted was Chit Juan, the only Philippine coffee advocate I know of. My question was very basic. It goes to show how little we know of coffee production. I asked:

“How does one really start planting coffee? Our land is in Benguet..around 1000 meters elevation.
Do you have other resources on how to start coffee farming? An updated article?
Any information or leads will be helpful”.

Chit’s reply led us to Professor Val Macanes of Benguet State University (BSU). Prof. Val handles the Institute for Highland Farming Systems and Agroforestry (IHFSA) in Bektey, Puguis, La Trinidad, Benguet. It is a 50 hectare campus laboratory for Arabica coffee, bamboo, an apiary, and even Philippine pigs.

Institute of Highland Farming Systems and Agroforestry

My husband and I met Professor Macanes on March 20, 2018 . I loved that he replied immediately to our request for a meeting. We met at BSU and it was also here that we met Jenny Rimando , a Sagada coffee farmer. Jenny told us that Prof. Macanes helped them a lot in their farm.

Professor Val Macanes

Before this meeting, I never knew anything about coffee farming or even seeing arabica plants. Prof. Macanes brought us to Institute of Highland Farming Systems and Agroforestry outside the main campus. On our way to the the farm, Macanes talked about Ted Lingle, founder of the Coffee Association of America (now Coffee Quality Institute)  who visited the site  two years ago. He asked Macanes “why are you keeping the Arabica of Benguet a secret? “ Macanes says “We are on our own”. Thanks to BSU research, they are helping coffee farmers all over the Philippines.

As our car entered the farm, thee pine trees shading the coffee trees greeted us. This is the exact environment in our then prospective farm site. I was excited.

Shade grown arabica trees

If coffee plants can grow under the canopy of pine trees, then it can also grow in our land.

In over our two hour discussion, our key takeaways are the following:

1.Initial startup will involve substantial financial investment and commitment in terms of time and effort .

2. 1 hectare is approximately 1,200 trees at 4 meters by 4 meters apart. A layout needed before actual digging for the base of fertilization.

3. Base of fertilization is very important – At least 5 kilos of chicken manure per hole (1,200 per hectare). Digging should be half a meter by half a meter.

3. Source seedlings from nearby Sagada Farm or from the Bureau of Plant Industry in Trinidad.

4. Labor services needed in the clearing , digging and planting.

4. There are many excellent resource persons

5. Payoff period is a long time horizon

6. Breakeven is 5 years but after that continuous payback from 6 years onward

7. Trees can be rejuvenated even after 30 years. Just cut a foot from the ground of the  trunk

8. Breakeven or ROI does not include cash crops because it is incidental

9. One hectare can produce at 800 grams /tree green beans. If you could go one kilo the better. That is 960,000 grams. That is your green beans. Arabica beans are heavier than Robusta.

In the next few months, Prof. Macanes proved to be helpful especially when we had questions on the coffee planting.

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