Dec 8, 2020

What Is Farm Syndication? How Partnership Is Innovating Luxury Coffee Production in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains

One thing is clear: Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is the most sought after coffee in the world. But the value of the island’s beloved export has not always correlated to a market that reaps the benefits of Blue Mountain coffee’s exclusivity—or celebrates the generations of farmers who steward its extraordinary cultivation.

The Jamaican coffee industry is among the oldest coffee economies in the world, beginning nearly 300 years ago. And with its long history have come inevitable setbacks in establishing fair standards for its many participants.

Small farms and coffee trees have aged. Major players have kept smallholders away from the coffee’s profitability, and most of all, dominant island processors have kept production low and markets concentrated. As a result—while Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee remains the most prized cup for luxury consumers around the world—few major specialty roasters, buyers and traders have established permanent roots on the island.

The good news is that Jamaican coffee growers are ready to turn over a new leaf. The island’s coffee industry is a vibrant, storied economy made up of the world’s most dedicated and passionate coffee farmers, and it’s led by well-governed, world-respected and strict industry standards that ensure the bean’s renowned quality.

Integrated commercial production that prizes valued, trusting and well-paying relationships with outgrowers while championing updated agricultural techniques is the way forward on the island. Growers like Blue Mountain Best are leading the way, particularly through farm syndication.

Around the world, farm syndication for luxury coffee has championed sustainability, direct trade and global investment in exclusive regions, and Blue Mountain Best is spearheading the use of this model in Jamaica—bringing global partnerships and direct trade relationships to the Blue Mountains for our community partners, customers and luxury coffee consumers.

How is the Jamaican coffee industry organized? And what are its weaknesses?

Like many coffee economies in specialty regions, the Jamaican coffee industry is organized around small farms and coffee estates, processing companies, certification boards, and traders, who sell the island’s unroasted coffee to networks of roasters and coffee companies around the world.

A distinguishing feature of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee—as well as a determining factor in its exclusivity—is the dominating presence of small farmers. The vast majority of coffee producers in Jamaica are family growers who manage only a few acres of land. Out of nearly 8,200 coffee farmers in Jamaica, roughly 6,000 of them grow in the Blue Mountains, all located in just 14,000 acres of land designated to grow certified Blue Mountain coffee.

Unique to the island, as well, is the Coffee Industry Board (CIB) of Jamaica, a subsidiary of the Jamaican Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA) who rates, inspects, classifies and officially certifies Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.

Between these two parties are processors, an often controlling set of companies who act as an intermediary between networks of outgrowers and the luxury coffee companies who buy Jamaican coffee. Most processors act as traders, and, over the industry’s history, have established defining and sometimes harmful market dynamics.

Because the majority of Blue Mountain farmers do not have the capability to process their own coffee, most rely on the island’s coffee processors to do so. These processors often buy beans from small farmers in informal arrangements that pay low prices and deny growers the investment to update their farms. Over time, this inequitable relationship has kept production in the Blue Mountains low, and most farmers have felt they’ve had to navigate production with little help and few services to upkeep their farms.

This arrangement has also affected specialty coffee companies and consumers. Because processors disrupt a direct relationship between trade and production, sustainability is difficult to guarantee, and specialty consumers who desire a direct relationship with producers are denied transparent access to cultivation.

In short, limited investment in the region—coupled with a breakdown in the production and processing segments of the market—hurts farmers and consumers alike. A modern, fair approach to luxury coffee cultivation is what’s needed to renew the industry.

What is farm syndication?

While specialty coffee consumers prize transparent and fair trade, specialty coffee regions often lack the investment or market infrastructure to champion fair market systems like these.

In recent years, coffee producers have promoted farm syndication as a model to solve these issues, bringing commercial producers, small farmers and luxury coffee buyers together in sustainable, profitable and long-lasting partnerships.

In short, farm syndication is a business model that offers investors the possibility of buying shared or part ownership in a unit of rural production, like an acre. Farm syndication often consists of a variety of investors—from traditional entrepreneurs to a diverse portfolio of companies already existing in the market—who invest in a central producer, reaping the benefits of the producer’s cultivation while securing a financial model that provides for the highest quality production.

Successful farm syndication allows agricultural experts, farmers and end-market companies to take part in a profitable and collective venture. In the context of a luxury product, investor profits have the potential to be extraordinary. Producers are able to secure a model that sustains the difficult process of establishing operations, and partnered companies in the market—like a roaster who wants to vertically integrate with a producer in a luxury coffee region—are able to secure a shared stake in stabilizing their supply chains.

Most of all, farm syndication—and the investment it brings—provides a major boost to the economy and farmers in the producer’s location. By increasing quality, farm syndication often increases the product’s value and, through healthy and diverse investment, gives back immensely to a country’s farmers and real economy.

Why does a farm syndication model make sense in Jamaica?

While farm syndication is not exclusive to coffee, luxury coffee producers, buyers and roasters have found this arrangement to be particularly restorative—especially in locations like Jamaica, where a stable commercial producer who can guarantee supply while supporting a network of outgrowers is sorely needed.

From an economic perspective, farm syndication makes the most sense in a location like the Blue Mountains. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is expensive and difficult to produce, and farm syndication provides a self-sustaining financial model that exceeds the costs of establishing production.

More, the ability for coffee companies to invest directly in the acres that grow their coffee makes direct trade immediately accessible. In a country like Jamaica, whose coffee product is prized by the most discerning luxury coffee buyers, direct trade is key to unlocking the profits of the specialty market. And integration with a transparent producer and processor ensures that coffee buyers, traders and roasters can keep watch over the standards of sustainability and equitable labor required by their consumers.

Most importantly, farm syndication gives a producer like Blue Mountain Best the ability to grow and process Blue Mountain coffee on a large scale—all while updating the region’s agricultural infrastructure and supporting outgrowers cost-effectively.

Blue Mountain Best is sowing the seeds of renewal in Jamaican coffee.

No other coffee producer or processor in Jamaica has pursued a farm syndication model, and Blue Mountain Best is proud to be an agent of renewal and restoration by doing so.

With over 550 acres of coffee production, Blue Mountain Best is positioned to become one of the largest producers of certified Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee on the island. Offering 500 of those acres for partnership, our farm syndication model is poised to significantly alter the way Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is produced, processed and sold.

Through farm syndication, we bring global investment from the specialty and luxury coffee industry directly to harvest, providing the needed investment to update the agricultural infrastructure and increase production to stabilize supply.

Most importantly, Blue Mountain Best brings the partners and investment to support an expansive network of outgrower farms across 1,000 acres of Blue Mountain coffee production, paying fair farmgate prices and working with generational coffee farmers to advance their agricultural techniques and equipment.

If you’d like to learn more about our work in the Blue Mountains, or if you’re interested in partnering with Blue Mountain Best as an investor or coffee company, reach out to our team.