Coffee Crisis Brewing? PT's Says They're Lucky

by Melissa Brunner

I was pouring my morning cup of coffee this week when I heard the news - an epidemic of coffee rust is sweeping through the Latin American crop, which could result in higher coffee prices in the U.S., particularly for higher-end varieties. Say it isn't so!

Of course, many locally-owned shops in Topeka serve up our locally-based PT's Coffee, so I filled my cup with PT's Farm Girl from our break room and dialed up PT's Coffee co-owner Jeff Taylor.

The good news for local coffee aficionados, he told me, is that PT's will likely be able to ride out this current bump with only a minimal increase in its prices, if any. However, that's not to say their producers aren't going to feel the pinch. Taylor said a couple of their producers are fortunate enough to have seen no crop loss. The other dozen or so anticipate losing 25 to 40 percent of their crop to the fungus. Taylor says PT's is in a unique position due to its direct trade approach, working directly with the farmers, which already has them paying a higher price for their beans. Negotiations are just getting underway with the producers, but Taylor believes they'll be able to work out an agreement to keep their price relatively stable for this year.

That means all you PT's drinkers can breath a sigh of relief - for now. Taylor says the question remains how this will impact production next year, five years, even ten years down the road. How many plants will they have to destroy? How long before their production returns to pre-outbreak levels? The producers may be willing to accept a closer-to-average price this year, but, Taylor says, think about it - they not only are taking that price, but also for a lesser quantity. For example, he says they usually buy 100 bags from one of their El Salvador farms, but, this year, they're only buying 20 - because that's all that is available. While PT's and their loyal coffee drinking customers may feel fortunate to have their price kept in check, the farmers are not.

On the bright side, Taylor applauded the news that the U.S. Agency for International Development is launching a $5 million partnership with Texas A&M's World Coffee Research Center to eliminate the coffee rust fungus. Taylor says it's not just about the prices you and I pay, but about the livelihood of these farming regions that already are fraught with poverty.

In addition, Taylor says research is underway into new varieties that are rust-resistant. Plus, it opens the door to experimenting with existing varieties that naturally resist the disease.

As Taylor wrote all the way back in February when he first surveyed damage from roya at farms in El Salvador, "The next 2-3 years should be full of excitement to sample new varieties of coffee trees and growing and pruning methods. And that is what makes a good farmer tick – the challenge."

 

Read Taylor's full February blog from El Salvador by clicking here.

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