Spacing – How crowded a coffee farm is with trees can have a bearing on their performance, but surprisingly, planting them very close together is not as problematic as you may think. Most of the world’s coffee has been planted at less than 2000 trees per hectare. (DaMatta, 2004). This is close to the figure recommended by USAID in their online training manual. They advise farmers space trees at 8 feet apart (1680 per hectare) in order to achieve a planting density where each plant’s roots don’t cross over each other. (Arabica coffee’s roots extend in a circle from the trunk with a diameter of only around 1.5m. See lesson 2.01)
As you may recall from lesson 0.02, intensive farming incorporating heavy farm equipment like tractors and harvesters is common in Brazil. In large and relatively level plantations found in places like Minas Gerais, farmers can adjust their planting densities to allow for harvest and tractors to fit between the rows of trees. But most of the world’s coffee farmers operate without machinery and often in very hilly landscapes like Colombia and Yemen. For terroirs that can’t accommodate heavy machinery for picking, one solution is the planting of dwarf cultivars such as Caturra. Dwarf cultivars are common because they are easier to pick by hand. This together with benefits of mutual shade has seen planting densities come closer together. (DaMatta 2004)
This table shows tree spacing statistics in trees per hectare in the middle column and grams per plant on the right hand side column. (Edison Martins PauloI; Enes Furlani Jr. 2010.)
Individual trees produce higher yields in less dense plantings. For example, higher yields were obtained in treatments with 3,650 plants per ha (Table 5). (Edison Martins PauloI; Enes Furlani Jr. 2010).