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Coffee prices soar as climate warms, New York Times says

Bryan Alaspa's picture

Huge parts of South America depend on the farming and selling of coffee beans, but in recent years the yields of coffee crops have been dropping and a story in the New York Times says it’s due to climate change.

A news story, published today, by the New York Times cites the warming planet as the reason that cup of coffee you enjoy every morning may be going up in price. It turns out that coffee plants, despite being grown in typically tropical climates, require a very delicate balance in temperature and rainfall and the warming planet affects that. That is causing the coffee plant yields to go down and the prices to go up.

According to the published story, bean production in the region of Cauca is down as much as 70 percent in some places from where it was just five years ago. This is not only affecting the average consumer of coffee, one of the biggest products on the planet with coffee houses like Starbucks and Caribou, but also the local farmers. Some farmers are being left with little in the way of money for clothing and food.

Back in 2006 the nation of Colombia produced over 12 million 132-pound bags of coffee beans. The country then announced an ambitious goal of 17 million by the time 2014 came around. This is particularly important for a country where growing narcotics, such as cocaine, can seem much more lucrative to poor farmers. However, in 2010, the yield of coffee beans was down to only 9 million of those bags.

This has caused a chain reaction up the line that ends up in the average consumer’s coffee cup and their wallet. Huge coffee producers such as Maxwell House, Yuban and Folgers have had to increase their prices just to try and even things out. In some cases, the story reports, as much as 25 percent.

At the same time all of this has been happening, the economic crisis that has gripped much of the world has affected coffee chains such as Starbucks and Green Mountain. Their profits have been dropping over the last several years. Starbucks, not that long ago, announced that it would be closing a large number of stores after decades of aggressive expansion across the globe.

The entire situation is a nightmare of supply and demand. The coffee beans, not just from South America, but from other producers around the world, are dwindling as the temperature of the planet rises. At the same time, the demand for coffee from consumers keeps growing.

The report in the Times says that some experts are warning that coffee could end up being a commodity like oil, with numbers and supplies steadily dwindling with little hope of recovery. They are suggesting that coffee producers start looking for other areas, expanding production globally, to try and shore up the supple of coffee beans needed to satiate the seemingly unending demand for the bean.

In Colombia, the air temperatures of the region have been steadily rising one degree in 30 years. In some areas, growers are reporting a rise that is double that. While this may not seem like a lot, it turns out the coffee bean plants cannot survive with even that much of a temperature difference. With the increased temperatures the plants produce their beans too quickly to be picked for optimum quality. The heat also increases the risk of pests that devour the coffee plants. With the increased temperature there is increased risk of heavy rains, which cause the plants to become damaged, yield less or rot.

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