Wake up and smell the coffee … made in the USA


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NEW YORK, Sept. 22 (Reuters) – Farmer David Armstrong recently finished planting what is possibly the most difficult crop his family has ever grown since his ancestors started growing in 1865 – 20,000 coffee trees.

Except Armstrong isn’t in the tropics of Central America – he’s in Ventura, California, just 60 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

“I guess now I can say I’m a coffee producer! He said, after planting the last seedlings of high-quality Arabica coffee varieties grown for a long time in sweltering equatorial climates.

Coffee is widely produced in the Coffee Belt, located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, where countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia and Vietnam have provided the best climate for coffee trees, which need constant heat to survive.

Climate change is altering temperatures around the world. This harms crops in many places, but opens up possibilities in other regions. This includes California and Florida, where farmers and researchers study coffee cultivation.

Armstrong recently joined a group of farmers involved in the largest coffee growing business in the United States. The nation is the world’s largest consumer of the drink, but produces just 0.01% of the world’s coffee harvest – and all of this in Hawaii, one of only two US states with a tropical climate, along with the southern hemisphere. Florida.

Traditional coffee producers like Colombia, Brazil and Vietnam have suffered from the impact of extreme heat and changing rains. Botanists and researchers are looking to plant more resistant crop varieties for some of the coffee-growing regions of these countries. Read more

Brazil, the largest producer, is going through the worst drought in more than 90 years. This was made worse by a series of unexpected frosts, which damaged around 10% of the trees, affecting coffee production this year and next. Read more

THE CALIFORNIAN DREAM ‘

“We’re getting to 100,000 trees,” said Jay Ruskey, founder and CEO of Frinj Coffee, a company that offers farmers interested in growing coffee a partnership that includes seedling, post-harvest processing and marketing.

Ruskey says he started trial coffee planting in California many years ago, but has said little about it. He said he wasn’t “out of the closet as a coffee grower” until 2014, when Coffee Review, a publication that rates the best coffees in each harvest year, took a look at his coffee, giving its batch coffee caturra arabica a score of 91 points. of 100.

Frinj is still a small coffee business targeting buyers of high end specialties. Frinj sells 5-ounce (140-gram) bags for $ 80 each on their website. For comparison, 8-ounce packs of Starbucks Reserve, the premium coffee sold by the American chain (SBUX.O), sell for $ 35 each. Frinj produced 2,000 pounds (907 kg) of dry coffee this year on eight farms.

“We’re still young, still growing in terms of farms, post-harvest capabilities,” Ruskey said. “We try to keep the price high and we sell everything we produce.” The business is already profitable, ”he said.

The company has grown slowly since, with Armstrong’s 7,000-acre (2,833-hectare) Smith Hobson Ranch one of the last and largest to partner with Ruskey.

“I have no experience in coffee,” said Armstrong, who typically grows citrus and avocados, among other crops.

To increase his chances of success, he installed a new irrigation system to increase water use efficiency and planted trees away from parts of the ranch that have been hit by frost in the past.

Coffee uses 20% less water than most fruit and nut trees, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Water has become scarce in California after recent droughts and wildfires. Many farmers switch crops to cope with limitations in water use. Read more

Giacomo Celi, director of sustainability at Mercon Coffee Group, one of the world’s largest green coffee traders, said the risks of growing coffee in new regions are high.

“It makes more sense to invest in new varieties of coffee that could be grown in the same current geographic areas,” he said.

Annual coffee production in millions of 60 kg bags

HOPE OF FLORIDA

As the climate warms in the southern United States, researchers at the University of Florida (UF) are working with a pilot plantation to see if trees will survive in this state.

Scientists have just moved Arabica coffee seedlings grown in an open-air greenhouse, where they will be exposed to the elements, creating the risk that the plants will be killed by the cold when winter arrives.

“This will be the first time they will be tested,” said Diane Rowland, principal investigator of the project.

Rowland said the researchers planted coffee trees near citrus, an intercropping technique used in other parts of the world, as the larger trees help to hold back winds and provide shade for the coffee trees.

The project, however, goes beyond just growing coffee. Alina Zare, an artificial intelligence researcher at UF’s College of Engineering, said scientists are also trying to improve the way we study plant root systems. This, in turn, could help in the selection of the optimal coffee varieties for the region in the future.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US meteorological agency, annual average temperatures were at least 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) above average for more than half the time at stations of long-term measurement of the southeastern region of the United States. in 2020.

Florida experienced record heat last year, with average temperatures of 28.3 C (83 F) in July and 16.4 C (61.6 F) in January. It is warmer than the Brazilian region of Varginha in the state of Minas Gerais, the largest coffee-producing region in the world, which averages 22.1 C (71.8 F) in its hottest month and 16.6 C (61.9 F) in the coldest.

“With climate change, we know that many parts of the world will have difficulty growing coffee because it will be too hot, so Florida could be an option,” Rowland said.

Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira in New York Editing by David Gaffen and Matthew Lewis

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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