ICAFE spends a lot of effort on research and development of new coffee varieties that are fungus resistant, have increased yield, and provide better quality coffee. They also look at innovative ways to recycle coffee byproducts, such as pulp and parchment, and appropriate use of fertilizers and pest control. Some examples of their cutting edge research include bean tracing and fertilizer determining.
Bean tracing is a noninvasive scan done in a machine that looks like a printer. The program scans green coffee beans and determines what area in Central America the bean is sourced from. Traceability of coffee beans is important because a lot of the value of the coffee is in the ability to brand it as authentic Costa Rican coffee. This is a test done in the biology lab at ICAFE. Farmers send in bean samples to be analyzed in this service. This program can analyze more about the bean than just the origin. It can predict yield. It tells ICAFE how much coffee can be expected from an acre of a plant that produces this bean. This information leads back to traceability. If a coffee farm is producing much more than the expected yield of beans, and the beans they have been checking in ICAFE are 100% Costa Rican, the excess beans may not be. This protects against fraud and helps ensure value in the crops.
Fertilizer determing is a free service done by ICAFE to help increase crop yield and promote crop health. The farmers collect soil from fields after the year’s harvest is collected and they send it to ICAFE. In the chemical lab, ICAFE obtains the water extract of the soil, so they can have a homogenous sample. The samples are scanned in a machine. The results are analyzed by a lab attendant to say exactly what nutrients the soil lacks, and then a recommendation is made for what fertilizer and how much should be used. This is important environmentally because this service ensures that the farmer won’t use too much fertilizer and have excess nitrogen runoff or other problems. Coffee farmers don’t always want help from ICAFE. The fertilizer program is useful and accurate, but it does not allow for the farmers to have organic farms. The fertilizers recommended are all synthetic liquids that farmers dilute.