It may only take moments to prepare and enjoy a delicious cup of coffee, but it takes years to grow the coffee trees that produce its beans. And it takes a team of attentive, expert coffee farmers to maintain a sustainable coffee farm with healthy and productive trees — while also facing the threat of Coffee Rust (or La Roya), the single biggest threat to coffee production worldwide.
At Hacienda Alsacia farm outside of San Jose, Costa Rica, Starbucks Director of Global Agronomy Carlos Mario Rodriguez is leading the industry’s charge against coffee rust. In addition to developing new highly productive rust-resistant hybrid coffee trees, he’s also working on new growing techniques and methods of caring for and managing coffee crops as a whole. And all this knowledge and discovery flows freely to coffee farmers all over the world through our global network of Farmer Support Centers.
Coffee farmers are constantly cycling new trees onto the land as the production of older ones decline with age. Here, the head farmer surveys a two-year-old crop at Hacienda Alsacia.
A Tree’s Main Threat
The coffee rust fungus attacks the coffee trees’ leaves and causes them to fall off, halting photosynthesis and ultimately killing the tree.
Erik Andre’s farm, Bella Vista, was hit hard by coffee rust, which caused a significant decline in coffee production. He’s slowly replacing older trees like the one he holds below with new, rust-resistant trees.
Here’s a closer look at a tree that can no longer produce coffee due to coffee rust and nematode infestation. The time and money farmers must invest in replacing trees like these causes significant setbacks, ultimately threatening profitability of the farm.
Finding a Solution
Carlos stands in the coffee nursery at Hacienda Alsacia, where he and his team continue to develop new rust-resistant hybrids and growing techniques to share across the global network of Farmer Support Centers.
Carlos uses traditional cross pollination methods, as well as innovative growing and watering techniques, to create new rust-resistant hybrids that offer increased productivity of high-quality coffee.
Carlos inspects the Vic 2 varietal, among many others growing at Hacienda Alsacia.
The Life of Healthy Trees
These coffee seedlings have hit the one-year mark and are ready to be planted in the ground.
Banana trees offer shade to young coffee trees at Bella Vista Farm, providing even temperature and wind protection, while also reducing weeds.
Many of the trees in this area are about two years old and just starting to produce cherries. In another year or so they’ll reach full production, which they can maintain for up to two decades. While coffee trees can produce coffee for up to 25 years, the farm must constantly replace older trees to stay productive.
Carlos and farm owner Erik Andre inspect a promising new rust-resistant hybrid. This three-year-old tree is producing more coffee fruit than older varieties.
This healthy coffee tree at Bella Vista Farm is producing ripe, red coffee cherries that will be picked within days and processed shortly after. Harvest time for coffee in Costa Rica typically lasts from September to February.
One Tree For Every Bag
As part of our commitment to fostering thriving coffee communities, Starbucks will provide a coffee tree to Conservation International for each bag of coffee sold from participating stores in the U.S. Get the whole story here.