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Too Hot for Coffee! Warming Temperatures in Puerto Rico Present a Challenge to Coffee Growers

Posted by William A. Gould, USDA Caribbean Climate Hub Director and Isabel K. Parés-Ramos, USDA Caribbean Climate Hub Coordinator in Climate
May 04, 2017
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Coffee farm on the southern part of Puerto Rico by Isabel K. Parés-Ramos.

Climate projections indicate Puerto Rico may be warmer and drier, likely impacting one of the Island's most iconic crops. This could result in less-favorable growing conditions in the coming decades for coffee. A new study by the USDA Caribbean Climate Hub shows that if greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures continue to increase, we may see a reduction in lands with highly-suitable conditions for coffee. Climate adaptation practices and research can help growers respond to new conditions and keep Puerto Rican coffee growing and flowing.

“This study is part of the USDA’s effort to develop and deliver information to help reduce the risks of climate variability and change”, said Dr. William Gould, Director of the Caribbean Hub based at the USFS International Institute of Tropical Forestry. The study, published in the journal Climatic Change, is the first to use fine-resolution climate projections for Puerto Rico to model the effects of warming temperatures and changing rainfall patterns on coffee growing conditions.

Coffea arabica (Arabica) accounts for the majority of production in Puerto Rico and worldwide. High temperatures and low precipitation can result in diminished coffee quality and yields, plus increased exposure and sensitivity to insects and diseases.

“High greenhouse gas emission scenarios project temperature increases that, without adaptation, will make growing traditional varieties of Arabica challenging”, explained Stephen Fain, lead author of the study. “Our findings reveal differences in the potential effects of high and low CO2 emissions on coffee.”

Projections indicate that under high greenhouse gas emission scenarios Puerto Rico's mean annual temperatures will exceed parameters suitable for Arabica by mid-century. "Under low emission scenarios we will continue to have areas suitable for growing Arabica using current practices, but under the high emissions trajectory that seems increasingly unlikely”, added Fain.

Coffee farmers and researchers around the world are joining efforts to find solutions to climate change challenges. Selective breeding has allowed the development of hybrid Arabica/Robusta varieties more resistant to coffee rust and higher temperatures. Growers are experimenting with techniques for conserving soil moisture, like increasing tree and shade cover, terracing steep farmlands, and employing drip irrigation.

The USDA Caribbean Climate Hub developed the ADAPTA project to provide farmers with information on sustainable management practices that help reduce risks. The information is available on our website through videos, factsheets, podcasts and workshops. The Hub will soon launch a video on shade coffee and agroforestry as an option for building climate resilience in Puerto Rico. For more information contact William Gould at wgould@fs.fed.us.

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Study: Fain SJ, Quiñones M, Álvarez-Berríos NL, Parés-Ramos IK, & Gould WA. 2017. Climate change and coffee: assessing vulnerability by modeling future climate suitability in the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Climatic Change, 1-12.

Category/Topic: Climate

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