© Photo by UF/IFAS

By Raye Mocioiu

Farmer David Armstrong recently finished planting what is likely the most challenging crop his family has ever cultivated since his ancestors started farming in 1865: 20,000 coffee trees.

Except Armstrong is not in the tropics of Central America—he is in Ventura, California, just 97 km away from downtown Los Angeles.

“I guess now I can say I am a coffee farmer!” he said, after planting the last seedlings of high-quality varieties of arabica coffee long cultivated in sweltering equatorial climates.

Armstrong recently joined a group of farmers taking part in the United States’ largest-ever coffee-growing endeavour. To boost his chances of success, he installed a new irrigation system to increase water use efficiency and has planted the trees away from parts of the ranch that frosts have hit in the past.

While the United States is the world’s largest consumer of coffee, it produces just 0.01 percent of the global coffee crop—and that is entirely in Hawai’i.

Coffee is primarily produced in the Coffee Belt, located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, where countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Vietnam have provided the best climate for coffee trees, which need constant heat to survive. In contrast, the United States has only two states with a tropical climate: Hawai’i and southern Florida.

As the climate warms in the southern United States, researchers at the University of Florida (UF) are working with a pilot plantation to see if trees will survive in that state.

Scientists have just moved seedlings of arabica coffee trees grown in a greenhouse to the open, where they will be exposed to the elements.

“With climate change, we know many areas in the world will have difficulties growing coffee because it is going to be too hot, so Florida could be an option,” said Diane Rowland, a lead researcher on the project.*

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© FRINJ Coffee

A Caffeine Boost for Costa Rica’s Forests

Over in Costa Rica, a recent experiment tested whether leftover coffee pulp from the coffee growing process could help bring the tropical country’s rainforests back to life.

Researchers from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa tested two plots, each exploited for years by raising cattle or growing coffee, to see how the coffee waste would affect the land, covering one parcel of grass with about 20 inches of the pulp and leaving the other untouched.

After two years, the plot of land given a boost from coffee showed a dramatic improvement, with over 80 percent covered by trees, some up to 15 feet. Trees were also an average of four times taller in the coffee-fueled plot, and soil samples were more nutrient-rich.

“It takes tropical forest hundreds of years to grow back. To have such tall trees in only two years is really spectacular,” says Rebecca Cole, a study author and ecologist from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, in an interview with National Geographic.

In a coffee harvest, producers remove the skin and pulp of the coffee cherry, using the remains to roast into coffee grounds. However, this means that half the weight of a coffee harvest ends up as waste, typically left to decompose in storage lots.

Planting trees may be the most common way to restore forests, but it’s far easier to reuse leftover coffee waste and let nature take the lead in turning deforested land into the nutrient-rich beginnings of new rainforests.

While more research must be done to determine the long-term effects of the coffee pulp, this method is a sustainable way to dispose of waste while also speeding up the process of reforestation.

*(Source: Reuters)

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