Hello! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Justina (for those of you that do, thanks for coming back to check out my second post!) My previous blog post, The Case for Sustainable Coffee: Climate Change and Chemicals focused on Climate Change and the ways in which organic and sustainable coffee can make a huge impact on the health and well being of people as well as the planet. Not using pesticides has many advantages but has some disadvantages in terms of producing a lower yield of coffee. As a result, our coffee comes at a bit of a higher price than conventional coffee. This blog post examines the reason for our price premium, mostly focusing on shade grown coffee and the way it differs from clear cutting coffee production (also known as conventional, hybrid or sun grown coffee).
Shade grown coffee is one of the most sustainable methods of growing coffee. Black River Roasters is proud to roast various different types of shade grown coffee. Even if a coffee that we sell is not labeled as being shade grown, do not lose hope, it still may be shade grown, just ask one of our Baristas! The goal of shade grown is to mimic the way in which plants (and as a result, wildlife) interact and grow as an ecosystem. There are obviously different ways of shade growing coffee (check out the infographic below). However, it is important to take note that any shade grown method is much better for the earth and all of its inhabitants than the sun grown method. “[Hybrid varieties] withstand direct sunlight and at the same time produced a greater yield of beans. It was a farmers dream except for the fact that the hybrids were more vulnerable to disease and required pesticides – for the first time” (Genziuk). Sun grown coffee may produce better yields but as a result of little to no ground cover, the necessary pesticides used for conventional methods run-off into local watersheds. “The more a coffee farm mimics a dense, multi-story canopy forest, the better it functions as a watershed… [and] the sparser the vegetation on a coffee farm, the worse it functions” (Kubota). Shade grown coffee not only protects the watershed but also protects and strengthens the biodiversity of the ecosystem which, consequently, benefits the coffee plants.
The shade grown method allows coffee to grow organically and in the midst of existing biodiversity. Clear cutting trees increases prevalence of pests, including the Coffee Berry Borer, a beetle that is a massive threat to coffee production throughout the world (Karp et. al 1, Tejeda-Cruz 173). To further expand, clear cutting forests destroys habitat for wildlife which is debilitating for natural pest control management. Research has shown that “conserving bird populations by maintaining countryside forest elements on farmland may…represent a critical component of borer control strategy. [Borer-consuming] birds increased in abundance and exerted stronger control on borer populations on plantations with higher forest element cover.” (Karp et. al 7). The only downside to shade grown methods are the lower yields produced as a result of conserving forest elements and in turn having less growing space.
Though hybrid coffee plants are given more growing space, this method is also more susceptible to changing temperatures; as the temperature increase, the presence of coffee fungi like Coffee Leaf Rust does as well (Iscaro 39). Arabica coffee is being directly targeted by Coffee Leaf Rust seeing as temperatures have been increasing due to climate change, regardless of growing altitude (Iscaro 40). However, shade grown coffee reduces growing temperature due to the presence of the tree (or canopy) layer, making the climate less welcoming for coffee fungi.
Despite the positive progress related to pest and plant disease control, lower yields and climate change have forced coffee farmers to increase their prices. As a result, those price increases obviously trickle down to the prices at Black River Roasters (which is totally worth it in my opinion). However, if you have any questions about shade grown, sustainability, or anything involving our coffee, stop in and ask one of our Baristas…we would love to help!
Remember, whether it’s hot or cold, be strong and be bold!