Sunday, March 20, 2011

As weather shifts, coffee farmers struggle to protect crops

The Youngstown Vindicator via the Seattle Times: A mile above this rural mountain town [Santa Maria de Dota in Costa Rica], coffee trees have produced some of the world’s best arabica beans for more than a century. Now farmers are planting even higher — at nearly 7,000 feet — thanks to warmer weather.

“We noticed about six years ago, the weather changed,” said Ricardo Calderon Madrigal, whose family harvests ripe, red coffee cherries at the higher elevation. He sells beans to some of the most notable coffeehouses in the U.S., including Stumptown Coffee of Portland, Ore., and Ritual Coffee in San Francisco.

…Yields in Costa Rica have dropped dramatically in the past decade, with farmers and scientists blaming climate change for a significant portion of the troubles. Many long-established plantation owners have seen trees wither or flower too early. Some have given up. Others are trying to outwit changes in temperature, wind and rain with new farming techniques and hardier tree varieties.

…Most important, the fate of coffee in Costa Rica could be a bellwether for food production — and prices — globally, as farmers around the world cope with mudslides, droughts and creeping changes in temperature. Almost all coffee grows in the tropics, and in general, tropical species are more sensitive to climate change, said Joshua Tewksbury, the Walker professor of natural history at the University of Washington. There are more species there, they can withstand only a narrow band of temperatures, and they are not likely to adapt well to change.

…Costa Rica has 25 percent fewer acres planted in coffee than it did a decade ago, according to the national coffee agency iCafe. Roughly 10,000 farmers have quit coffee, some converting their land to pasture for cattle or dairy businesses. The remaining coffee farms produce less, with yields down 26 percent in a decade…

A coffee plantation in Costa Rica, back when

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