THE RIGHT TIME TO GROW COFFEE IN THE U.S.?

Generally, coffee is produced in the Coffee Belt, including countries like Brazil, Vietnam, and Colombia. Coffee trees thrive in an area just 15 degrees above or below the equator. Arabica, in particular, is a fussy plant that requires just the right amount of sun and water.

However, as a result of climate change, temperatures are changing all over the globe, with some countries experiencing problems but other regions seeing growth potential.

Those who see opportunities include some areas of the United States, like California and Florida. This is unusual because a location in California might be 38 degrees north of the equator, which is far from the usual sweet spot! Notably, however, the US is the largest consumer of coffee, yet only produces 0.01% of the global coffee supply.

With the recent frost in Brazil, the world’s biggest coffee grower, that damaged around 10% of the coffee trees and the worst drought the country has faced in 90 years, coffee production has been affected for this year and the next. In addition, transportation costs have skyrocketed, in some cases increasing over 400%.

As we write this article, hundreds of container ships sit outside the ports in California, unable to unload their cargo, due to a capacity shortage created by the pandemic.

Colombia and Vietnam are also suffering the effects of drastic heat and changing rain patterns. As a result, some think it is time to look at other potential locations to grow coffee. 

A lead researcher working on a pilot plantation to test the survival of plants in the warming climate at the University of Florida, Diane Rowland, stated:

With climate change, we know many areas in the world will have difficulties growing coffee because it is going to be too hot so Florida could be an option.

The pilot plantation tests trees’ survival in the southern part of the US, as the climate is getting warmer there. Arabica coffee that trees were grown in greenhouses and have now been moved to the open. Rowland said that this would be “the first time they (the plants) will be tested”.

As part of their research, they are using an intercropping technique that helps hold winds and provide shade to coffee trees by planting them close to citrus. This is a part of bigger research — scientists are looking more into the plants’ root systems, which could potentially help the future selection of optimal coffee varieties for the region.

Recently, farmer David Armstrong finished planting a crop of approximately 20,000 arabica coffee trees in Ventura, California.

Recently, farmer David Armstrong finished planting a crop of approximately 20,000 arabica coffee trees in Ventura, California. He is part of a group of farmers who are pursuing the largest coffee-growing endeavour in the US, with the aim of growing 100,000 coffee trees.  In the past, some pointed out that California needed to preserve its water, and questioned whether diverting water for growing coffee is a necessary step.

But the advocates such as Armstrong are not deterred. Armstrong is the founder and chief executive of Frinj Coffee, and Jay Ruskey, went public with information about his coffee farming trials in 2014.

Ruskey’s company provides farmers who are interested in coffee farming a partnership package that includes seedlings, post-harvest processing and marketing. 

Even though Armstrong comes from a long line of farmers, they typically grow crops like citrus fruits and avocados. He admits he has no experience in coffee farming, but to assist with his new endeavour, Armstrong installed an irrigation system to increase the efficiency of water usage, as water has been scarce in California due to recent droughts and forest fires. 

Climate change is a worrying factor for coffee farming businesses worldwide, but the pursuit of successful coffee planting in the US might provide hope for global coffee production in the future.

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