Losing Land, Beans, & Sleep: Climate Change Impacts on Coffee

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Over half of Americans drink coffee every day, on average 3 cups a day— that’s 66 billion cups a year!! And even just here in Springfield, one of our own local coffee shops, they roast 400-600 pounds of beans…a week!!

That’s a lot of coffee. 

Aside from tap water, coffee is America’s most consumed beverage. Sleepy eyed mondays would just be terrible without it! 

But a new study shows that could be a new reality. As temperatures warm and heavy rain and drought become more extreme due to climate change, the coffee crop is at risk.

In fact, even if we make dramatic cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions, that 2015 study found in the Climatic Change Journal, says we could still lose over 40% of land suitable for coffee beans by 2050 — just 30 years from now. If no emissions are cut at all, that loss nears 60%.

“Whenever there’s big weather changes, it’s going to affect it,” Nate Murphy is general manager and lead roaster at The Coffee Ethic in Springfield. He witnessed first hand how extreme weather impacts coffee farmers in Brazil.

“They had some coffees drying out on patios and they had an unexpected rainfall come in so all that coffee got ruined because it ended up fermenting” recounts Nate. 

High heat and heavy rain can also intensify coffee rust, “it just eats away the leaves so the cherries get hit by the sun and dry up,” explains Nate, a detrimental fungus to the coffee crop. 

In 2013, coffee rust caused $500 million worth of crop damage in Central America. 

Coffee beans grow in the Bean Belt, in countries along the equator like Colombia, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Vietnam.  “It likes elevation…that little bit cooler climate that comes with being up in the mountains,” explains Nate. But as temperatures warm, the beans are finding fewer places to call home, and the pests and bugs are moving in.

“You can get pretty deep and scientific but at the end of the day they’re losing crop and the less crop they have they can’t make up for those lower prices. They need that volume to make a living,” says Nate.

“If we don’t support them and buy the coffee from them, they can’t sustain their farms,” explains Michelle Billionis. 

Michelle Billionis is the owner and operator of The Coffee Ethic, “our slogan is ‘cup, people, earth’ and so caring for the earth is a huge part of our philosophy and mission.”

Even on a small, local level, her company works closely with these farmers to do their part in combating these challenges.

Michelle has made it a point to be green and earth-friendly within her shop, “we used recycled aluminmum for the bar, these chairs are recycled chairs, they’re not brand new”…

In her products, “all of our clear cups are corn-based cups and so they will dissolve over time,” explains Michelle…

Beyond to the farmer, “maybe we can help them get the equipment and be prepared for those changes,” says Nate.

 And everyone in between, “it’s caring for your community, being involved in campaigns or whatnot that will educate people,” says Michelle.

For Michelle and Nate, “we are seeing the results of climate change,” recounts Nate, it’s been a morning brew type of wake-up call “I am worried about it, i’m worried about how it’s going to affect the taste of the cup” says Michelle.

 But they’re both optimistic, “there’s a lot of organizations trying to take steps to figure out if there are certain coffee varieties that resist rust, are there certain coffee varieties that can grow at a lower elevation,” explains Nate.

There are two types of coffee beans they are studying closely. Arabica is the more common bean, but it is weak in combating these climate challenges. The Robusta bean can adapt to changes better, but it doesn’t taste as good in your cup! Researchers are trying to find the best of both: a strong bean and good tasting brew.

A solution the industry will try to grind out, and some food for thought you can brew on the next time you sip your cup o’ Joe.

Research study by Humbolt University faetured in this story: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-014-1306-x

More information from the Climate Institute: http://www.climateinstitute.org.au/coffee.html 

Quick, easy-to-understand article on coffe & climate change from Climate Central: http://medialibrary.climatecentral.org/resources/roasted-coffee-at-risk 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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