Coffee Seedlings in Forestry Tubes

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2005: $14,957.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $15,000.00
Region: Southern
State: Puerto Rico
Principal Investigator:
Steven Welker
USDA NRCS - El Atlantico RC&D

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: citrus


  • Crop Production: agroforestry
  • Education and Training: technical assistance, demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, value added
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities


    The objective of the project was to develop commercial quality coffee seedlings
    through a cropping system based on forestry tube containers. The motivation behind the project was to replace the current coffee seedling system in use in Puerto Rico which relies on plastic bag containers. The existing system was judged to be unsustainable due to its economic and environmental costs, and agronomic deficiencies.

    The tube container system was based on 3 elements – Ray Leach cell containers set on trays and raised benches, non-soil potting mix, and micro sprinkler fertigation. Results demonstrate that the tube containers solve the problems posed by bagged coffee seedlings. Tubed seedlings showed adequate development above ground, root systems superior to bagged coffee, and faster establishment. So far, survival rates have been good. Production costs for the tube seedlings are much less than the bag product and their environmental impact is minimal.


    This project involves nursery production and transplanting of coffee seedlings in Puerto Rico. It seeks to reduce environmental damages of topsoil mining and reduce labor costs involved with transplanting coffee by using soil less potting mixes in a tube system that is currently in use in forestry enterprises in the US such as Weyerhaeuser Company. These same concepts will also be applied in the production of the related citrus crops that are used in the integrated agro forestry production system.

    This project is a key component of the El Atlantico Resource Conservation & Development Gourmet Coffee Program. The coffee industry in Puerto Rico encompasses 14,000 limited resource minority producers. The coffee industry in Puerto Rico is currently exempt from NAFTA. This can not be continued into the future as per the trade agreement. In the future the Puerto Rico coffee industry must compete in the world market. The coffee industry in Hawaii has successfully made this transition with Kona gourmet coffee. Hawaii and Puerto Rico share the same high labor costs that make only gourmet coffee a viable option in these areas of the United States.

    The Gourmet Coffee program is an integrated attempt to establish the gourmet industry in Puerto Rico. Nurseryman Arturo Rivera is the chairman of a 35 member farmer group that is seeking to establish a gourmet coffee business. He is also the sole owner of Vivero Matrullas Coffee Nursery. Participating farmers are members of the Specialty Coffee Association of Puerto Rico and directly represent an additional 500+ producers. For instance the President of Cooperative Agro Comercial wants to participate in the field plantings.

    Mr. Rivera is raising solely gourmet coffee varieties of 100% Arabica coffee of three varieties specially selected for Puerto Rico for the members of the gourmet group and other farmers. Arabica - Robusta hybrids are dominantly planted today in Puerto Rico which does not have the “cupping” qualities for the gourmet markets. The farmers in the group raise gourmet coffee in an agro forestry system that includes plantains and citrus crops for shade and additional income.

    In Puerto Rico all coffee plants are still started in flats and then transplanted into plastic bags filled with soil. These bags weigh about 6-7 pounds and are then transplanted to the fields that are typically 40-60% slopes. Topsoil needs to be mined for filling the bags. Soil extraction permits are increasingly difficult to obtain from the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources. This project will reduce the weight of the coffee plants by over 90% by substituting topsoil with potting mixes.

    El Atlantico also has a project in utilizing rice hulls in starting a potting mix industry in Puerto Rico. Rice is imported from the US and milled in Puerto Rico. Currently only 35% of the hulls are utilized. Rice hulls available can currently be measured in acre feet. They cover an area estimated at 3 acres and 10-15 feet deep. At the same time the nursery and ornamental industry has been limited by relying solely on expensive, imported potting mixes that are dominantly sphagnum peat moss from Canada.

    Project objectives:

    Objective is to develop and refine a transplanting method based on producing coffee seedlings in forestry tubes using soil less potting mix.

    Performance Targets include:
    Germination rates
    Disease and insect problems
    Size and uniformity of finished seedlings
    Fibrous root development
    Seedling production costs
    Field survival rates

    The second Objective is to develop a system that results in less environmental damage than the current system based on mined topsoil with the seedlings raised in plastic bags.

    Performance Targes include:
    Amount of topsoil saved
    Irrigation water use
    Pesticide use

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.