The Cerrado Mineiro region, part of Brazil’s Minas Gerais state, produced seven million bags in 2018, totaling 15% of Brazil’s coffee production. The region’s coffee farming history began to thrive around fifty years ago, when a new wave of knowledgeable producers entered the region.
Beginning in the 1970’s, farmers moved from the southern state of Parana, where crops had been affected by frost and particularly devastated by the black frost of 1975, to start farming coffee in the Cerrado Mineiro region, which had previously been an area of only cattle farming.
Newly arrived coffee producers formed associations, which became cooperatives, and now seven cooperatives make up the Cerrado Coffee Growers Federation. Different from the larger body of elected representatives in Colombia’s longer-standing national federation of coffee growers, the Cerrado Federation has just six employees and does not buy or sell coffee. Rather, its role is to act as a promoter and international representative of the seven cooperatives and their thousands of members. Among the Cerrado Federation’s most notable work is their establishment of the Cerrado Mineiro Designation of Origin. Ally Coffee is part of an accredited chain to bring these coffees, along with their seals of origin and quality, to roasters around the world.
Today, producers in Cerrado are established, having passed their farms and regional production knowledge through several generations. The rising generation of growers is moving from focusing on high yields and productivity to focusing on quality.
The quality available today has taken the past two generations to be established and the characteristics in the cup come from the region’s special terroir. Cerrado enjoys a moderate continental climate, being far enough inland from the coast and south of the Amazon Rainforest. Cerrado Mineiro is lucky to have well-structured soil that drains well; the land does not retain water like a swamp or bog. But Cerrado Mineiro’s rolling plains are a savannah, much like African grasslands. The soil in Cerrado’s savannah is naturally low in nutrients because it is low in organic matter, around 1.5%. Many years of cattle farming further degraded the region’s soil with herds’ constant scraping of topsoil, and Cerrado’s soil is also high in naturally occurring but toxic aluminum.
Beginning in the 1970’s and 1980’s, producers began adding lime (a blend of calcium and magnesium) to the soil to block the aluminum and correct the toxicity. Now, after more than 30 years of farming later, the soil has as much as 4.5% organic matter. Many coffee farmers in other parts of the world have farms with volcanic soil, farms in or near forests with soil that is rich in organic matter and all its nutrients. Cerrado farmers have had to construct the soil health themselves, and the fruits of their labor are shining through in the cup, with more complex and delicious coffees being produced each year.
Cerrado is also fortunate to have a consistently dry harvest season, which facilitates a consistent drying process. In the early days, producers spread cherries out to dry on earthen patios, but today all have converted to paved concrete patios or raised drying beds. Natural processing is the norm in Cerrado, but as producers invest in quality over volume, they are exploring Pulped Natural, Washed, and other processing options.
Within Cerrado, there are many microregions that present unique characteristics in the cup. The Chapadão de Ferro microregion is a small town with farms situated around the cone of a partially formed volcano. Farms here are at higher elevations, above 1100 meters, and coffee is harvested a month or two later than in other parts of Cerrado Mineiro.
To date, the Cerrado Mineiro Designation of Origin program includes more than 1000 growers and 1100 farms. Almost 50% of the coffee grown in Cerrado comes from farms in the Designation of Origin system. By participating in the program, producers provide full traceability for their farms and for each lot of coffee they produce. They also demonstrate compliance with Brazil’s strict environmental sustainability laws and adherence to best social and ecological farming practices. Farms pay an annual fee, proportional to the size of the farm, to be a part of the program, which supports the compilation of traceability materials and promotional activities. As an accredited Cerrado Mineiro Designation of Origin importer, Ally also pays a fee to support the Cerrado Federation’s work, which include projects like an ongoing research with Minas Gerais agronomy organization EPAMIG called “Campus Varietal Demo” to identify the varieties best suited for each microregion of Cerrado.
The Cerrado Mineiro region is home to farms large and small, to producers with backgrounds in other crops and in many fields of agricultural science. Growers choosing to participate in the Cerrado Mineiro Designation of Origin program are those with the initiative and drive not only to make their own coffee better but to be a part of the collective success of their neighbors and their region. We invite you to try a sample of Cerrado Mineiro coffee today!
All photos credit Cerrado Coffee Growers Federation