Biome Makers Blog

Insights into Regenerative Agriculture and Sustainability in Coffee


Incorporating data, technology, and farmer-CPG collaboration will support sustainable growth in the coffee industry, enabled by regenerative agriculture.

We continue to stress the importance of sustainability among consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs). This is a challenge that plagues food and beverage industries with differing degrees of change taking place among them—commercially and sustainably.

With more than 9.5 billion people expected to walk this earth by 2050, the number of coffee drinkers will increase, and the current annual consumption of 400 billion cups will continue to rise. A reduction in harsh chemical inputs unfit for coffee growing will not only increase yields, but also help CPGs secure higher quality beans at lower costs, more sustainably.

However, climate change also impacts the amount of coffee that growers can produce. Researchers believe technological intervention is the key to exponential growth for years to come. To do this sustainably, they must adopt more natural, regenerative solutions to make their crops more resilient to rising temperatures and evolving pests and diseases.

The provision of end coffee products is wholly impacted by supply chain activities, which, in turn, must adapt to the changing climate conditions. Over the years, issues like decreasing crop yield and increasing vulnerability to pests; diseases and changing environments, mobilizes the industry to adopt more regenerative processes.

Examples of regenerative agriculture’s impact, and how CPGs measure this, can be found at the likes of General Mills, Unilever, and Nestle.

  • General Mills: GM shifted its focus on the land, measuring its impacts based on every inch of soil. The company’s pilot program (launched in 2020) supports wheat producers to promote better water quality, by working with OpenTeam to gather and analyze more data on the land. 
  • Unilever: The CPG wants to make sustainable living commonplace, starting with its products. Unilever’s Climate & Nature Fund supports the growing development of regenerative agriculture, influencing resource efficiency, nature preservation, and climate action.
  • Nestlé: The company aims for 20% of its ingredients to come from farmers with regenerative agriculture practices in place by 2025, and 50% by 2030.

Increasing Coffee Quality and Productivity

Soil health has deteriorated over the years as more and more chemical pesticides and fertilizers damage microbial life, which is a historical result of a temporary approach to increasing crop yields. However, the end results are two-fold—one being a reduction in pests, the other is, ironically, reduced soil fertility as a result of harsh chemical usage. 

When it comes to coffee production, this is a response to unnatural growing processes, i.e. the commercialization of coffee plants, resulting in inadequacies in their environments. Beyond the impacts on the environment, this also encourages further cons, such as poor quality coffee and, with any use of pesticides, increased risks to consumers—marking both social and environmental obligations of growers to step away from chemicals and for CPGs to become more wary of the effects they have on crop quality.

What Does Quality Coffee Look like? 

Many associate quality coffee with specialty roasters. But, while there are multiple varieties out there growing in differing climates and producing different flavors based on their processing, quality assurance starts with the growers—where the tree produces the bean—and is a significant factor in a high-quality, high-quantity yield. 

At the source, defective coffee may show signs of the following, which can impact the yield significantly: 

  • Full black or partial black: Discoloration and shriveled appearance caused by pests, diseases, insufficient irrigation during growth, or either too early or too late to harvest
  • Fungus damage or mold: Results in white, yellow or reddish-brown patches and is caused by humidity in harvesting or storage 
  • Insect damage: Damage in the field whereby coffee cherries are attacked by coffee berry borers

Other factors related to coffee handling include: 

  • Full sour and partial sour: Green coffee defect that is a result of over-fermentation and delays between harvesting and pulping—commonly occurring in processing or storage 
  • Broken beans: A result of mishandling when hulling or milling 

These are some of the core burdens on farmers, and their primary focus for decades, but there’s more to the equation now as they look to protect their yields sustainably. 

Sustainable Coffee Farming: Benefits Beyond the Bean 

There is more to growing quality plants and meeting the demand for coffee globally. Up until harvest, coffee uses an exceptional amount of water to grow. The World Economic Forum reports that 140 liters of water is used to produce a single cup of coffee, which ifcombined with the above consumption figure, sums to 56 trillion liters per year. 

While coffee-growers increasingly benefit from FairTrade coffee initiatives and fund their livelihoods from the product, the drain on their water supply is detrimental to both the communities and their harvest—particularly as climate temperatures rise. 

High water consumption constitutes the use of technology, which can improve plant research capabilities through measurement, reporting and verification (MRV). Traceability is the number one hurdle for farmers and CPGs to overcome before they implement any sustainability practices in their supply chains. 

Visibility, by a farmer’s definition, focuses on the activity in the soil. This sets the tone for the supply chain as CPGs build sustainability into their products. 

Insights into Regenerative Agriculture and Sustainability in Coffee

The Role of Soil Health Insights in Agriculture 

CPGs increasingly support farmers in adopting regenerative agriculture practices through robust sustainability programs. These initiatives often involve providing financial incentives, technical assistance, and access to resources to facilitate the transition to sustainable farming methods. To measure and monitor the success of these programs, CPGs employ various metrics, including soil health indicators, biodiversity assessments, carbon sequestration rates, and water usage efficiency.

Soil biology analysis is among the key technologies used to measure and monitor the success of these programs. By examining soil microbial communities, nutrient cycling, disease risks, and overall soil health, CPGs gain insights into the effectiveness of regenerative practices in enhancing ecosystem resilience and productivity. 

Additionally, CPGs collaborate with agronomists and agricultural experts to offer tailored advice and guidance to farmers, helping them optimize their practices for sustainability while maximizing yields. This holistic approach ensures the effectiveness of sustainability programs and fosters long-term partnerships between CPGs and farmers committed to regenerative agriculture.

In addition to these benefits, soil health insights offer various applications for coffee growers:

  • Precision agriculture: Analysis of various data points, including soil moisture levels, temperature, humidity, and previous backdated weather patterns, to recommend optimal planting schedules, efficient irrigation, and fertilizer application.
  • Microbial analysis: A deep dive into microbial composition beneath the surface to understand nutrient cycling, disease risks, hormone production, and stress adaptation. These insights can be used to find suitable nutrient and fertility programs for coffee plants. 
  • Supply chain optimization: Leveraging all these data points gives farmers the power to predict and deliver coffee beans efficiently, sustainably, and cost-effectively.

Case Study: The ECOM Costa Rica Initiative

Data is key in a partner selection process and ECOM Coffee turned to Biome Makers for greater insights and information for sustainable procurement. 

The core deliverables of the project included: 

  • Benchmarking reports on soil health and farm comparison
  • Reporting on biodiversity, carbon and nitrogen content, and yield
  • Providing intelligence to supply chains of farm resilience and biodiversity
  • Connecting an API for traceability of farm location and scores 
  • Enabling transparency of sustainability efforts and achievements
  • Leveraging agronomic insights to improve coffee quality and productivity 
  • Providing access to free soil health education and certification

The world-leading soft commodity services group specializes in coffee, cocoa and cotton products and is also on a journey to verify the use of sustainable, regenerative practices in its supply chain. Working with Costa Rican coffee growers, the business is greatly supporting the country’s small traders to become more environmentally conscious. 

“We are improving the farming practices in coffee with regenerative agriculture,” said Tomás Gutiérrez Acuña from ECOM Coffee.

Working with ECOM, Biome Makers’ database and BeCrop® Rate enabled the company to evaluate management practices implemented by farmers, of which 100 were handpicked to receive support from ECOM and develop their regenerative practices, using biostimulants, organic amendment, cover crops, and shading to make the most of natural growing factors. 

In this process, Biome Makers leveraged BeCrop® Rate to monitor soil evolution of 100 coffee fields across the country and validate soil health status and improvements to be made in a sustainable way. 

“BeCrop® Rate provided us with soil health metrics to track changes over time, including improvements in below ground biodiversity, crop yield, and carbon sequestration.” 

BeCrop® Rate: A Tool for Revolutionizing Coffee Sustainability 

Combining customers’ microbial data with the largest soil database is how Biome Makers encourages greater insight for farmers and producers. 

BeCrop® Rate provides:

  • Greater health benefits to consumers
  • Sustainability through transparency 
  • Resilience among coffee farmers
  • A marketing packaging to promote your sustainability score
  • A digital gateway to connect with blockchain-based systems 
  • BeCrop® Rate user training and certification

Biome Makers offers a full service to onboard growers with a data-driven approach, and marries this with CPG requirements to improve supply chain visibility. BeCrop® Rate is a metric developed by Biome Makers and used by global brands and farmers to report sustainability and stay on track with their goals to implement regenerative agriculture practices.