Coffee Field Spacing
Climate change may require some rethinking about tree spacing configurations to facilitate the use of new tools and even system change. Especially to provide adequate mulching material to protect coffee tree roots and surrounding soil through long hot dry seasons, wider between-row spacings should be considered when replanting.
Replanting is a costly exercise and if young trees (< 2 years) are exposed to a long dry season (especially during an El Niño event) tree mortality can be very high. For the first two to three years it is therefore very important to protect soils from extremes until the trees grow to a size where roots are more established and self-shading limits high soil temperatures. However, it is often challenging to provide a thick layer of mulch that lasts through a long intense dry season. Some farmers bring in material from outside the coffee plot but this can be costly. Where planting density is around 5000/ha or higher, the inter-row spaces to grow mulching material become limited and more difficult to manage. One solution is to increase the between-row width to 2.5 m, and if necessary reduce within-row spacing down to 0.8 m (to give 5000 trees/ha). The 2.5 m strip provides a broad swath where cover crops like Brachiaria and Cajanus and Crotalaria Juncea can be grown and then cut to cover the ground adjacent to the rows of coffee.
- Replanting is necessary.
- Any new planting configuration will require some changes in agronomic practices.
- Since spacing changes require replanting, establishment costs are high.
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- Initially only small areas (not larger than 0.2 ha) should be replanted to judge the utility of this new configuration under local conditions.
Increasing row width may also help to:
- Improve aeration of plots during wet periods.
- Allow more light in to the lower coffee branches, especially on sloping land.
- Allow easier experimentation with shade trees (temporary or permanent).
- Allow more space to try out mixed cropping, especially in marginal zones where coffee will inevitably cease to be grown in the future.
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