Saturday, June 15

California Farmers Attempting First Commercial Coffee Crops in Continental US

Coffee is the world’s second-most-traded commodity (after oil), and California growers are now making moves that could leave the continental U.S. more than just a consumer in that equation.

“Though it’s not a traditional region for growing coffee, California is playing an increasingly big role in the future of this beloved and lucrative crop,” NPR reports in a Nov. 12 article.

Jay Ruskey, of Good Land Organics, is using some of his farmland outside Santa Barbara to experiment with growing coffee among avocado trees and passionfruit plants, making him the first grower in the lower 48 states to attempt a commercial coffee crop.

The University of California Cooperative Extension helped Ruskey plant his coffee five years ago, and he and his crew are now harvesting several varieties that have never been grown in California before.

The world’s best coffee is grown in tropical regions, and Hawaii is the only U.S. state with a commercial coffee industry. However, many other non-native crops have come to thrive in California — brought by what NPR terms “agricultural explorers.” Avocados were brought to the state from Mexico and Guatemala, navel oranges from Brazil and dates from Morocco; all three are now vital parts of the California agricultural economy, which accounts for more than half of the U.S. fruit, vegetable and nut supply.

Research and Development

After picking the coffee berries, Ruskey and his team put them through a depulper, then into a fermentation tub, before letting them dry. The different varieties of beans are then weighed to compare their yields.

But quality will also be a top priority. “We’re doing more than just trying to find best yields,” Ruskey says. “We’re also trying to find the best cups of coffee.”

It’s unlikely that California’s new crops will have an impact on the worldwide coffee market any time soon, says Juan Medrano, a professor at the University of California, Davis. However, he continues, the state can serve as a good hub for research and development.

Both farmers and scientists, he hopes, will investigate possible growing environments and issues such as disease resistance.

With environmental changes threatening coffee crops worldwide, Medrano explains, this research may have some serious economic impacts: “Hundreds of millions of peoples’ livelihoods depend on coffee,” he says.

For now, Ruskey says he’s just pleased to see the market expanding as other growers make similar attempts to his.

“I look forward to the day when I can cup a California coffee from Santa Barbara against a California coffee in Temecula,” he says. “We’ll have a little contest, meet together, invite our friends.”

“I think this is very exciting, however there is so much involved in the growing of the bean in the tropical belt so we’ll see what happens,” says Anick L’Heureux of Coffee Crafters. “All of the good coffee beans come from the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn at an elevation of 1000 to 1500 meters. California is so far north of the climate that coffee beans are usually grown in, that I’m sure this will be a great challenge,” Ken Lathrop of Coffee Crafters adds.

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