Tata Coffee, which was formed when the Tata group acquired a controlling interest in the erstwhile Consolidated Coffee Limited, is the single largest integrated coffee company in the world. It has its presence in every aspect of coffee-making and seeks to enter newer areas. Cultivation practices
Since its early days, Tata Coffee has laid a strong emphasis on scientific cultivation practices that would benefit the company in terms of better yield and crop management. The company’s plantations are managed by exceptionally qualified people from leading agricultural universities. These professionals manage nearly 25 estates, covering an estimated 8,000 hectares of land.
The focus, as Hameed Huq, vice-president (production), says, is clearly sustainable, long-term production. Tata Coffee ensures that its production of coffee is in natural shade, allowing falling leaves to reinvigorate the soil and replenish depleted nutrients. The company has its own nursery producing healthy saplings for its own use, as well as for the use of smaller plantation owners. Its strength in good irrigation practices ensures that availability of water, critical for the blooming of the coffee berry, is provided at the right time.
R&D and innovation
The company has developed many innovations in its farming practices, thanks to its research and development unit, the one of its kind (as a corporate R&D unit) in the entire coffee world. It is dedicated to all aspects of crop husbandry of coffee, pepper and cardamom. The facility has several achievements to its credit:
- It was the first to introduce leaf analysis as a guide to the dosage of fertiliser recommended for various estates. As a result, the fertiliser application rate has been adequate and optimum, leading to savings in costs and enhanced productivity.
- It was the first to scientifically identify the requirement of secondary nutrients like sulphur and zinc, which are added to fertilisers to make them more effective.
- Its continuous collaborative research with the Water Technology Centre has made it possible to devise better irrigation procedures for the company’s estates to achieve higher production.
- It has developed and overseen the large-scale manufacture of compost from coffee cherry husk, which is then applied as a soil nutrient in coffee-growing areas.
- It pioneered bio-control research that has resulted in the discovery of many environment-friendly products that are used to combat deadly pests that affect coffee production.
- Its continuous tissue culture and micro-propagation technology programmes produce disease-resistant varieties of pepper and cardamom.
- It has conducted plenty of research in the treatment of coffee effluents, which are highly acidic and pollutant. Research is also underway to develop eco-friendly effluent control methods using natural enzymes.
- It has constantly innovated to improve the mechanisation process of coffee production. These products are basic and very necessary at the field level.
The curing process
Coffee curing is the most critical process in making the raw coffee seed saleable in the global market. Tata Coffee’s three curing works have a combined capacity of 30,000 tons. The most modern and, with a capacity of 20,000 tonnes, the largest of the facilities is at Kushalnagar, which has received the ISO-9002 certification.
The curing facilities have large drying areas and godowns to store and process large quantities of coffee. The Kushalnagar works is very modern, with minimal manual intervention in the curing process. There are conveyers which carry the coffee berries from the godowns to the first stage, where the husk is mechanically and pneumatically removed.
The raw coffee beans are then automatically segregated into various categories depending on size, shape and fullness. There are computerised colour sorting machines to add care to the sorting process. The segregated coffee beans are then mechanically bagged, packed and sent, through conveyor belts, to the storage godowns for finished goods.
The company’s curing facilities are also used by smaller plantation owners who cannot afford their own curing units. Thus, Tata Coffee also helps the industry at large by lending assistance to smaller growers.
Tata Coffee, in keeping with the traditions of the Tata group and the practices of its predecessors, plays a vital role in the community around it. The company has continuously helped small individual growers through its ‘Small Growers Development’ programme. These are, typically, individuals with one or two acres of land who are given advise on scientific methods of cultivation, besides free supplies of high-yielding, disease-resistant saplings of the arabica and robusta varieties of coffee. The help rendered by the company to these small growers has helped them improve the value of their holdings.
The company has also started a co-operative irrigation project for the welfare of small growers. This project is geared towards providing them with much needed water during the critical harvesting period. As a result, crop damage is drastically reduced.
Additionally, for the benefit of the general society around it, Tata Coffee has instituted several charitable trusts which raise funds that are used primarily to help the community. The company also runs medical centres, hospitals and first-aid posts in the areas it operates in. Its three large hospitals are equipped with the latest medical facilities and doctors in all disciplines of medicine. Besides this, it organises events for social causes like family planning, prevention of alcoholism and Aids awareness.
Tata Coffee provides housing to most of its staff. It already has 2,300 tenements across approximately 730 labour lines. These provide neat and clean accommodation to the huge labour force that is required at its plantations.