Climate change poses a growing threat to coffee’s global supply chain. But it could also present new opportunities for sustainable business.
Agriculture weather Don Keeney, MDA Information Systems LLC., recently led a discussion on “The Impacts of Drought on Coffee Production” with Fernando Gast, Cenicafé Colombia, at the NCA 2015 Annual Convention, in Charleston, S.C. [PDFs of all session presentations are available online.]
Here, he discusses why the coffee industry needs to watch the weather.
Recent drought in Brazil has led to market concerns regarding crop supply. Is this anxiety justified?
Don Keeney: I do indeed think the anxiety is justified. Dryness during this time last year resulted in notable reductions in coffee production.
However, the dryness right now is even more pronounced with regards to area and intensity than [forecast] models were predicting.
What steps can the coffee industry take now to ensure future supply security?
Invest in research to develop coffee trees that are more drought and disease resistant.
Also, increase production in tropical areas where rainfall is more constant and less prone to drought.
How can agriculture-based industries minimize future damage caused by shifting weather patterns?
Some key steps agricultural interests can take would be to promote the development of varieties of crops that are more tolerant to both dryness and also disease pressure (which would be promoted by wetness).
Investments in infrastructure are also important. This would result in more efficient transportation, as well as roads and transportation options that are less prone to flooding and disruptions.
On-farm practices such as contour farming, precision agriculture, irrigation improvements, and drain tile help reduce impacts of changing climate as well.
How is climate change affecting coffee crops?
Climate change does not equate to negative crop impacts everywhere.
Many areas are seeing negative effects due to rising temperatures and more inconsistent rainfall, but there are also areas where agricultural production can expand due to more moderate temperatures (northern/southern latitudes) and increasing or more consistent rainfall.
What is the most important meteorological trend you’re seeing now?
We are in an era of increased volatility with regards to weather extremes.
Most media attribute this solely to global warming, but historical research has shown that there are cycles of increased volatility every 25-30 years, and we are currently right in the middle of one of these cycles.
The increased weather volatility is directly impacting year-to-year crop production, and hence commodity prices.
What’s your greatest concern looking forward? What makes you the most optimistic?
My greatest concern is that we will continue to see increased weather extremes over the next several years, which will produce significant ups and downs in crop production and prices.
However, I am optimistic that the extremes will settle eventually. Also, improvements in drought and disease resistant crop varieties, combined with better farming practices, should help to lessen fluctuations in production over time.
Climate Change Highlights
Keeney shared the following key takeaways at the NCA 2015 National Convention:
- Climate is not static; it is always changing
- “Normal” does not usually happen – what we call normal is actually just an average of the extremes
- Extremes have always occurred and will continue to occur, regardless of climate change
- Blaming an individual weather event on climate change is bad science
- There will be winners and losers
- Those who produce and use agricultural products will need to adapt
- Weather extremes have always had a large impact on agricultural commodities and always will
- There are still a lot of uncertainties about future impacts of climate change
Photo credit: Flickr