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The Cost of Organic Coffee

The Cost of Organic Coffee

Organic Coffee has become a staple in some households and has etched its way into a growing niche coffee category in coffee shops all across the US. The farming methods used and the lack of pesticides when farming has made it a very attractive item, regardless of the higher cost due to strict farming guidelines.

According to the Organic Trade Association, in ordered to be labeled Organic in the US, coffee must be farmed without synthetic pesticides or any other prohibited substance for three years.  This must be accompanied by a three year crop rotation plan that controls pests and prevents the depletion of soil nutrients. This balance is not easy to maintain and can be far more costly that using pesticides, hence we see a higher set price for organic coffee.

From an article posted on Bloomberg.com, it focuses on the plight of Teodomiro Melendres Ojeda, an organic coffee grower in Cajamarca, Peru, who stands at a crossroads. Neither path is attractive as he faces his battle with Coffee Leaf Rust. The leaf rust has been a global epidemic throughout the coffee belt as we have discussed in previous articles. Ojeda is faces with the situation that is between a rock and a hard place; use chemicals to treat the rust, or keep his certification and watch his crop die. Global warming and climate change have caused the  elevations effected by rust to move from 3000 ft above sea level to 6000 feet in some growing regions causing even less of a farming area for organic coffee.

Adhering to organic principles, however, doesn’t mean a fungicide is entirely safe. It has been found that even the copper-based fungicides approved for organic use can cause environmental damage. They can wash off the coffee plants in wet weather, meaning that workers have to apply it every few days, increasing the amounts that run off into streams, endangering wildlife, and potentially poisoning soil.

Mr Ojeda examining his damaged Coffee Plants

This problem will not be going away since it has only continued to spread since 2009 when it hit Colombia. Since then it has hurt crops in Central America, Peru and Mexico. In 2013 Guatemala had 70% of it’s growing area infested causing a summit to be held in terms of how to handle this State Of Emergency. About 50 percent of plantings in Honduras, the world’s sixth-largest producer, are susceptible to the fungus, with 25 percent showing signs of leaf rust and 8 percent severely hit.

In Jamaica, our 2013-2014 crop suffered a near 20% loss of production due to coffee leaf rust resulting from excess moisture left behind from Hurricane Sandy, and Hawaii has had it’s share of loss as well. Since the rust thrives on moisture, it is extremely susceptible to the conditions of Global Warming.

What this means for the consumer in the US? Coupled with the impending drought in Brazil that is effecting the coffee “C’ Market, coffee leaf rust will see prices move higher at the register. From the article ” In the season starting Oct. 1, world coffee production will fall for the second straight season, which hasn’t occurred since 1993-1994, USDA data show, just as world demand climbs to the most ever, led by record use in the U.S., the biggest consumer. The average retail price of coffee in the U.S. was $6.91 a pound in the four weeks ending Aug. 10, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Organic coffee is more expensive. Costco Wholesale Corp. offers a five-pound bag of Chiapas-grown organic coffee dark roast for $41.99, or $8.40 a pound.”

So if you see higher prices for Organic Coffee as 2015 approaches, don’t be surprised, as it is a natural effect of mother nature; Drought and Leaf Rust.