CULTIVATION, STORAGE & PACKAGING
Coconut palms can tolerate a wide range of soil types provided it is well drained with a pH range from 5.0 to 8.0. The tree is resistant to salt spray and does well along shorelines, but can be grown inland. Minimum average air temperature of 72°F and annual rainfall of at least 30 inches are required for successful cultivation as well as full sunlight. Coconut palms can tolerate hurricane-force winds and short periods of flooding or drought, but injury and possible death will result from cold snaps and temperatures below freezing.
Planting is generally during rainy summer months in beds several feet high and wide to prevent waterlogging of roots. Trees are commercially planted between 18 and 30 feet apart. When transplanting, irrigation of at least one inch per week is particularly important in the first year. Mulching is recommended to retain moisture and discourage weeds.
Coconuts to be used for seed are ready to plant if they produce a sloshing sound from the liquid inside when shaken. Nuts are half-buried on their sides in sand or mulch. Germination is most successful in hot weather with temperatures of 90 to 100°F. Tree trunks become established in about 5 years and begin to produce male and female flower clusters. Healthy trees produce fruit in 5 to 10 years with full production reached between 12 and 20 years old. Tall tree varieties will fruit until the plant is around 80 years old, producing from 50 to 200 fruits throughout the year depending on the variety.
Coconuts are harvested throughout the year and picked at different maturities depending upon use—a year maturity for copra or dehydrated coconut, 7 months for coconut milk. Harvest is done by tree climbers or from the ground using long poles with knives attached to the end. Some growers allow the nuts to fall when ripe and collect them from the ground. For immature coconuts or those intended for seed, bunches are harvested by climbers and brought down using ropes to prevent damage.
Nuts to be sold without their outer casing are husked in the field. Mature, husked coconuts are sold in 75 to 80-pound plastic or burlap bags of 40 to 50 coconuts each, or in plastic mesh bags of 12 coconuts each. They are also sold in cartons holding 20 to 25 coconuts or even single-piece cartons of 6 to 16 nuts each. Copra is sold fresh-cut in over-wrapped trays or plastic bags, and can be sun or kiln dried, or roasted or smoked. Processors sometimes cut a circular hole into a husked coconut and attach a pull-tab for easy access.
Immature coconuts are trimmed to remove most of the husk and shipped with a flat bottom and exposed eyes. Husking, while economical and convenient for marketing, shortens postharvest storage life to approximately three weeks. Mature coconuts should be cooled after harvest, preventing temperature fluctuations of more than 14°F to prevent cracking. Film-wrapping or waxing can help prevent dehydration and the resulting loss of quality in both mature and immature coconuts. Storage over six weeks will sour the coconut milk.
References: Purdue University, University of Florida/IFAS Extension, University of Hawaii.
GRADES & TOLERANCES
There is no formal grading process for coconuts. Informal grades, based on size and weight, exist but may differ between countries. There are several types of coconut palm, differing in tree structure and fruit color, but all produce the same basic nut.
The United States has no standards for coconuts; USDA recommended inspection procedures call for a visual inspection of the shipment for cracking, drying, or other damage. Guidelines require inclusion of 5 to 10 coconuts from each shipment to be cracked open to inspect for quality and fermented liquid.
Reference: USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.
COCONUTS: WEEKLY MOVEMENT & PRICES, USA
Source: Chart by Gallo Torrez Agricultural Price Trends (GTAPT), firstname.lastname@example.org, compiled from USDA data.