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Mountain-based Maveric looks downstream for value

Mavelyn Watson has nearly tripled her coffee output last year, a resurgence in yields that buttresses plans to venture deeper into valued-added production.

As operator of Maveric Farm Limited, Watson cultivates coffee on 25 acres of her 30-acre property at Westphalia in the hills of St Andrew, and mainly supplies beans to coffee processors, but she is considering expanding both the acreage under cultivation, as well as moving her business to a new level as a ‘farm to cup’ operation.

“Infrastructure would be needed,” Watson said in interviews with the Financial Gleaner.

“I already have the licence to roast from JACRA, but two other licences are needed,” she said.

Last year, Maveric achieved 1,650 boxes of coffee to outperform the just over 600 boxes produced in the prior crop year, and that’s even though the prolonged drought and leaf rust infestation caused the loss of some berries, she said. The coffee fetched between $7,000 and $8,000 per box.

But while her yields had almost tripled last year, Watson indicated that the output was below par.

“I usually reap nearly 100 boxes per acre,” she said.

With 25 acres under production that would be equivalent to more than 2,000 boxes per crop year.

To return to better yields: “I am working hard to add more nutrients to sustain production on trees this crop year,” Watson said. She expects to earn around $10,000 per box this crop year.

A larger roasting operation would allow Maveric Farm to target the export market, as well as local hotels and retailers.

But for now, the woman farmer, only has a licence to sell roasted coffee. Her Maveric roast is produced on her behalf by Coffee Solutions Limited.

Otherwise, she sells green beans through the Jamaica Coffee Growers Association.

The Westphalia property was acquired as a coffee farm years ago when it went into receivership and was put up for lease. That was about 25 years ago.

Watson was then employed by Jablum Jamaica, the company, and considered the farm a good venture. Meanwhile the surviving Jablum coffee brand is itself currently produced by Mavis Bank Coffee Factory.

“Because I was already in the coffee world before I owned my farm, there was not much to learn. I had already learnt most of the things about coffee culture in my previous employment at Jablum from the late Hector Gilpin who was in the industry before me.”

Watson, now the sole owner, first leased the farm with a view to purchase later, having secured the first option to buy. In two years, a sale was executed, and the woman farmer became the permanent owner.

“Many banks were not willing to lend, but thankfully Capital & Credit Merchant Bank at the time loaned me the funds to purchase.”

Capital & Credit Merchant no longer exists. It was acquired by JMMB Group in 2012 and remade into a commercial bank now known as JMMB Bank Jamaica.

Work on the farm was routine because the trees were previously established. It was up to Watson to maintain the plants to uphold and increase yield from the farm.

“I have all grown coffee, so my operation is basically weed control – done manually and chemically – and pest and disease control.

The most observed pest is the coffee berry borer, which is controlled by spraying with insecticides prescribed by various farm stores or biologically by the use of attractants provided by regulator Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Authority, better known as JACRA.

Watson said her farm had been plagued by the coffee leaf rust for years, despite treatment.

“After wasting a lot of money on chemicals I now realise that the best treatment or preventative measure is nutrition. Pruning and removal of gormandisers is also practised as you want to remove all undesirables to enhance a healthy and manageable bearing tree,” she said.

Maveric Farm currently has 10 workers.

Watson is looking to upsize the business by seeking out equity investors and planting out new areas with coffee seedlings.

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