By Katherine Favor, NCAT Agriculture Specialist
Coffee and avocados are a delicious combination for breakfast—what’s better than a mug of hot, rich coffee and some avocado toast? YUM. Coffee and avocados are the perfect pair on the breakfast table, but did you know that they also make a great pair in the field?
Many growers in warm climates like Southern California are beginning to plant coffee and avocados together in alley cropping systems. Alley cropping refers to the agroforestry practice of planting understory crops between rows of trees. In the case of coffee and avocado alley cropping, coffee shrubs are the understory crop that is planted between overstory rows of avocado trees. Planting coffee and avocados together in agroforestry alley cropping systems can be a great way to regeneratively produce these crops in Southern California. By growing avocados and coffee together in one integrated system, growers can maximize yield, increase coffee quality, improve water-use efficiency, reduce pest pressure, and provide numerous ecosystem services to the environment.
NCAT has developed five videos showcasing what has worked well for one such coffee and avocado alley cropping farm in Southern California—musician Jason Mraz’s farm: Mraz Family Farms. In these videos, Mraz Family Farms’ Designer and Farm Manager, Scott Murray, takes us on a tour of the farm and tells us everything we need to know about growing coffee and avocados together.
In Designing a Coffee and Avocado Alley Cropping System, Scott Murray shows us what farm design has worked for Mraz Family Farms, he discusses the benefits of alley cropping systems, and he talks about the design principles to keep in mind when establishing this kind of system. Scott covers many different considerations to think about during the design process, including competition for light, wind, pollinator habitat, plant spacing, pruning, and harvesting.
In Managing Water and Nutrients in a Coffee and Avocado Alley Cropping System, Scott discusses the below-ground interactions between coffee and avocado plants that affect plant nutrition and water uptake. He shows us Mraz Family Farm’s dual irrigation system, their methods for monitoring soil moisture, the below-ground anatomy of coffee and avocado root systems, and how to treat salt-heavy water. He also talks about fertigation through the irrigation system, how to use a fertilizer injector to create customized fertilization regiments for each crop, and how to manage competition for nutrients between crops.
In Managing and Maintaining a Coffee System, Scott dives into the details of coffee production, including how to prune, stump, manage for coffee pests, harvest, and process coffee, and how to select suitable varieties.
In Planning and Establishing a Coffee System, Scott talks about the specifics of getting coffee plants into the ground in a way that sets them up for success, including how to start them in the nursery, transplant them, harden them off, and create a beneficial surrounding microclimate.
In Avocado Production 101, we go into the specifics of avocado production, including variety selection, how to start them in the nursery, how to harden off, how and when to transplant, where to plant them in the landscape, irrigation, nutrient management, weed management, pruning and scaffolding, harvesting, and ensuring effective pollination.
We hope that Mraz Family Farm’s story, as told through these videos, serves as a starting point to help growers learn more about growing coffee and avocados in Southern California, and about alley cropping in general. Cheers to delicious plant pairs that go well together both on your plate and on the farm!
Related ATTRA Resources
This blog is produced by the National Center for Appropriate Technology through the ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program, under a cooperative agreement with USDA Rural Development. ATTRA.NCAT.ORG.