Coffee as expensive as cognac? U of G professor says it could happen sooner than we think
Published Thursday, January 16, 2020 7:30PM EST
KITCHENER -- Can’t start your day until you have a cup - or two - of coffee?
That habit could soon become more costly.
Coffee producers around the world are currently struggling with a devastating disease that is destroying their crops.
As supply dries up, the beans are becoming more expensive.
Shelby Merrithew, from Smile Tiger Coffee Roasters in Kitchener, says that could have an impact on many consumers.
“It will be more of a luxury than just an everyday cup of joe.”
The culprit is a fungal disease called “leaf rust” which begins with yellow spots on the leaves that gradually increase in size. Wind eventually carries spores from the infected leaves to other healthy plants. “Leaf rust” doesn’t kill the plant but chokes off nutrients that it needs to grow. When it comes time to harvest the crop the yields ends up being much smaller than previous years.
“It’s like a vampire, sucking the life out the leaf,” says University of Guelph professor Stuart McCook. His book, titled ‘Coffee is not Forever’, details the history of disease and its spread through the coffee trade.
“In the last 10 to 15 years there have been two really bad outbreaks,” says McCook. “The first was in Colombia and the other one in Central America.”
Those were so severe that the disease began to be called “The Big Rust.” Thousands of hectares of land were destroyed and some growers lost 80% of their production.
In order to cut costs, McCook says, some farmers stopped using sprays or fertilizer on their crops. That, in turn, caused the fungus to spread even further.
McCook says the spread of the disease is also tied to our changing environment.
“It’s clearly linked to social and human processes.”
Our caffeine addiction, combined with smaller crop yields, could make coffee as expensive as cognac says McCook.
“For Arabica coffee cultivation, [prices could rise] by 50% by the end of the century.”
Merrithew of Smile Tiger Coffee Roasters says it could lead to big changes in the industry.
“Say goodbye to your free refills and your diner-grade coffee.”
Shoppers say it could also impact the choices they make.
“I would make coffee at home and take it with me instead of going to coffee shops,” said one man.
Researchers are still working on ways to combat “leaf rust” while also trying to develop new crops that wouldn’t be affected by the disease.