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Wake up and smell the coffee … made in the United States By Reuters


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© Reuters. This photo was taken by Reuters, September 20, 2021. FRINJ Coffee/Handout vi

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By Marcelo Teixeira

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Farmer David Armstrong recently finished planting what is likely the most challenging crop his family has ever cultivated since his ancestors started farming in 1865 – 20,000 coffee trees.

Armstrong isn’t actually in Central America, he’s in Ventura, California. It is only 60-miles (97km) to downtown Los Angeles.

“I suppose now I can call myself a coffee grower!” After planting the final seedlings for high-quality arabica varieties, he stated that he was now a coffee farmer.

Coffee can be found in the Coffee Belt. It is located between the Tropic of Cancer, the Tropic of Capricorn and where countries like Brazil, Colombia and Ethiopia have provided coffee trees with the most favorable climates. Coffee requires constant heat for survival.

The global climate change is changing the temperatures. While this is damaging crops in some areas, it opens up opportunities for others. California and Florida are two of the states where coffee researchers and growers have been looking into growing it.

Armstrong was recently part of a team that participated in the biggest-ever American coffee farming project. Although the nation is the largest coffee consumer in the world, it produces only 0.01%. This was in Hawaii which, together with Florida, is one of two states that have a tropical climate.

The effects of changing rainfall patterns and extreme heat have had a devastating effect on coffee producers like Vietnam, Brazil, and Colombia. Researchers and botanists are trying to find harder-to-treat varieties of coffee for those countries’ coffee-growing regions.

Top producer Brazil is going through the worst drought in over 90 years https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/brazil-drought-alert-country-faces-worst-dry-spell-91-years-2021-05-28. Unexpected frosts caused damage to about 10% of the coffee trees. This has had a negative impact on production for next year as well.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

“We are getting to 100,000 trees,” said Jay Ruskey, founder and chief executive of Frinj Coffee, a company that offers farmers interested in coffee growing a partnership package including seedlings, post-harvest processing and marketing.

Ruskey said he tried to plant coffee in California several years back, but that he didn’t tell anyone about it. Ruskey claimed that he “came out the closet as coffee farmer” only in 2014. In 2014 Coffee Review reviewed his coffee and gave his caturra arabica one-off coffee score of 91 out of 100.

Frinj, a coffee company with a focus on high-end specialty customers, is still small. Frinj’s website sells 5 ounce (140g) bags for $80. For $35, you can buy 8-ounce packs of Starbucks Reserve (NASDAQ:] Reserve), the highest-quality coffee available, for only $35. From eight farms, Frinj was able to produce 2,000 pounds (907 kg) of dried coffee.

Ruskey stated that “we are still young and growing in terms farms and post-harvest capability.” We are selling all of our products and trying to maintain a high price. He said that the venture was already financially profitable.

With Armstrong’s Smith Hobson Ranch on 7,000 acres (2.833 ha) being the largest partner to Ruskey, the company has continued to grow slowly.

Armstrong stated that “I don’t have any experience with coffee.” He is a typical grower of citrus fruits, avocados and other crops.

In order to boost his success rate, Armstrong has installed a new irrigation system and moved the trees from areas that were damaged by frosts.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization states that coffee requires 20% less water per acre than most other fruit and nuts trees. California has experienced water shortages due to recent droughts, forest fires and other natural disasters. To address water restrictions, many farmers have switched crops.

Giacomo Celi is sustainability director for Mercon Coffee Group. He said that the risk of growing coffee in new regions are very high.

According to him, it seems sensibler to buy new varieties of coffee that can grow in the same areas as current ones.

FLORIDA HOPES

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 that state.

Scientists just transferred seedlings of arabica espresso trees from greenhouses to open areas. They will now be exposed to the elements. The risk is that they could die in the harsh winter.

Diane Rowland (lead researcher) said that this will mark the beginning of the testing.

Rowland explained that the researchers will plant coffee trees next to citrus. This intercropping technique is used worldwide as bigger trees can hold wind and shade coffee trees.

However, the project is not just about coffee cultivation. Alina Zare is an artificial intelligence researcher from UF’s College of Engineering. She said that scientists also want to learn more about the root systems of plants. This could lead to the development of the best coffee varieties in this region.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States, average temperatures for the year were more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 Celsius) above the normal in all long-term measurement stations in the United States’ Southeast region.

Florida was hit with record heat in 2017, reaching average temperatures of 28.3 C (83 F), in July and 16.4 C (11.6 F) January. The temperature is higher than Brazil’s Varginha state in Minas Gerais. This area produces the most coffee in the country, with an average of 22.1 C (71 F) during the hottest months and 16.6 C (61 F) at the lowest.

Rowland explained that because of climate change many places around the world are likely to have trouble growing coffee due to extreme heat. Florida may be an alternative.



Mike Robinson
Mike covers the financial, utilities and biotechnology sectors for Street Register. He has been writing about investment and personal finance topics for almost 12 years. Mike has an MBA in Finance from Wake Forest University.