Producer Advancements: Data logging

by Khomanta

At Khomanta we have various projects in the works to supplement and refine important aspects of production providing producers with opportunities for improvement. In our conversations with producers all over Peru we encountered a common story—everything is done by eye and “the way we’ve always done it”. For us that directly translates to room for improvement.

We are by no means down playing what works for producers, nor are we trying to play the role of the roastery who tries to tell a generational coffee producer how to do their job. Our aim at Khomanta is to give producers a hand up—work with them to get on the path to a future of self-sustained success and improvement. For us, that path to improvement begins with data.

What’s the big deal with data?

Data is one of the most valuable resources for any profession—especially in agriculture where many controllable and uncontrollable variables exist. If producers can anticipate, interpret, and control some of these variables then they have the means to better stabilize, reproduce, and improve production.

In the world of coffee, calculating by eye is a common and popular technique for harvesting, fermenting, and drying coffee. Our conversations with Peruvian producers made it apparent that most, if not all, neglected historical data and performance. They had trouble answering questions such as why they seem to be making less money each year, why every other year the quality of their coffee seems to bounce back and forth, or why one year their coffee was exceptional but never again. They’ve all said they’ve been doing what they’ve always done, nothing changed—that they know of.

The data logging book

As we’ve stated above, when we asked producers about each of these aspects of production, and really started digging in, most did not have a decent understanding of what was actually going on historically on their farm. Not only does this make way for large variances year to year, it can also destroy profits and ROI which directly affect the well-being of producers and their families whom the majority live at or below the poverty line.

The aim of our data logging book is to provide producers with a way to formally note significant categories of coffee production with the goal of utilizing the data to plan for the future, reduce burdens on their lives, and set themselves up for repeatable success.

Log break down

Fertilization & pest control
Organic and non-organic farmers must all fertilize and control pests. Knowing which fertilizers work best, quantity required, along with costs allows for easier budgeting and quantity control reducing wasted resources and money for the producer.

Pre & post harvest
Specialty grade coffee requires extra care. For a coffee to be of the highest quality only the ripest coffee cherries should be picked—when we asked a producer how they know when the time is correct, they all said by looking at it.

On our first visit to our producers we gifted them a refractometer—an instrument that measures the level of sugar by the refraction of light through a liquid solution e.g. squeeze the coffee cherry juice out onto the instrument and hold it up to the light to obtain a reading. For the most part, the more sugar the cherry contains the more mature the coffee bean will be.

We worked together picking various cherries and testing them on the instrument to understand how it works and how levels can change day to day. The log book provides producers with a way to track sugar level changes pre-harvest to better predict when the harvest should occur.

Post harvest data such as weight, how long it took, number of hired hands were needed, etc allow for better budgeting and prediction of results and costs for future harvests.

Arguably the most important part of a washed coffee is the fermentation process. Fermentation plays a vital role in cleanly separating the coffee bean from the meat of the coffee cherry. Fermentation also imparts flavors into the beans which can be beneficial or detrimental depending on the environment, time, and other variables.

Temperature plays a large role in the speed of fermentation. For example, a June harvest in Peru where temperatures are hotter than in August will result in the fermentation process happening quicker in June assuming all other variables are relatively equal.

If a producer typically ferments their coffee for 36 hours then a coffee fermented for 36 hours in June may require 40 hours in August. The reverse could also happen, say 36 hours in June produced a coffee with off flavors due to excessive fermentation whereas a cooler fermented August harvest of 36 hours could be perfect.

Time, ambient temperature, mash temperature, and chemical changes of the mash such as pH are data points we can use to understand and control the fermentation process. Tracking this data allows producers to do what they always do, but with data in hand as to answer the why's and in the future the how's.

After all the hard work of harvesting and fermenting has completed the crucial step of drying takes place. To sustain shelf life, preserve quality, and roast properly coffee must be dried to 9-12% humidity.

Depending on the environmental conditions such as temperature, precipitation, humidity, and overcast the amount of days required to dry can vary drastically. Since coffee bean humidity testing devices are cost prohibitive, producers rely on time estimates and hardness tests—biting the coffee to see how hard it is.

While we haven’t made huge progress in this portion of production we have provided producers with a way to record daily environmental data to help anticipate and plan for sample testing, transportation, and future expectations for eager customers.

For producers, sales and ROI are directly tied to their well-being and livelihood. Being able to understand and calculate profits is crucial for making better decisions in the future. Having historical sales data to use as a point of reference when buyers come knocking protects the producer from being taken advantage of as well as providing some insights into historical market performance.

Next steps

A handful of books were printed off and provided to producers for use starting the first harvests in June/July in the Jaén region. With these prototypes we can make adjustments to better suit the producer and then make them publicly available. From that point we'll work with associations in Peru to print the books at cost along with an online release for free download and printing instructions.

Producers need all the help they can get and we hope this is a great first contribution from Khomanta to the world of coffee.