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Coffee rust is damaging coffee-growing regions, and some estimates see it extinct in our lifetime.

Could coffee be extinct by 2050? Extreme weather patterns have resulted in large outbreak of coffee rust

Rachel Schoutsen
Presenter, The Weather Network

Thursday, April 10, 2014, 12:56 PM -

Extreme weather patterns are affecting the drink you love most in the morning. Yes, a fresh cup of coffee.

Andrew Hetzel, Coffee Industry Advisors, spoke to The Weather Network from his home in Kamuela, Hawaii about coffee rust and how it’s hurting production.

"There’s a large outbreak of coffee rust right now in Central America. This is a result of changes in weather. There was a critical time in 2012 when we had some unusually heavy rains in Central America which caused the fungus to bloom and grow at an accelerated rate," says Hetzel.

He then went on to explain that this period was immediately followed by dry weather with strong winds. This allowed the rust to become airborne. The spores then traveled to higher elevations ruining coffee that had previously been untouched by the fungus.

Once the fungus hits the plant the damage is irreversible. Hetzel did comment that pesticides can be used to avoid damage but come with a large price tag.

MAPS: Current weather in Central America

So, how much damage are we talking?

Across Central America production is down an average of 20%. But, some individual countries, like Nicaragua, are sustaining heavy damage of more than 70%.

With a good chunk of the crop lost, how will this affect us here in North America?

Hetzel comments, "There are two ways that North Americans are going to experience this affect. One is higher prices. Coffee is fairly under priced anyways, so really this is not the big issue. The bigger problem is more the quality. When plants are affected by the rust, the coffee they produce is not as sweet and there is the potential that some unique types of coffee may become extinct."

Coffee rust is also called La Roya- Smartse Wikimedia Commons

Coffee rust is also called La Roya- Smartse Wikimedia Commons

Yes, this affects us here in North America but the bigger problems lie down south.

"The problem is, we are finding with temperature change as well as changes in rainfall, some places are just not able to grow coffee and that is a huge problems for availability of the crop and economically for communities to survive," Hetzel comments.

Brian Khan from Climate Central based in New York has been following the coffee story and also pointed out that the communities growing this crop are the ones in economic danger.

"People living in Central America need these coffee crops to survive, we have to think about the livelihood of these people, they depend on coffee to support their lifestyles. I was reading recently that food security in Central America is a problem because of decreased coffee crops. There is now just less money to go around," says Kahn.

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Some people in Central America used to live in perfect coffee growing conditions, but with the changes in weather and extreme weather patterns, their ability to grow coffee is no more. They are now faced with the decision to move to where coffee crops can still be successful or change their own lifestyles.

While the rust is a huge problem for coffee, so is drought. Hetzel and Khan both commented about the drought in Brazil and how this is a significant loss in coffee production as Brazil produces the most coffee.

"The original forecast numbers predicted for Brazil at the beginning of this growing season (last September / October) was around 55 million bags (60kg each) total, including Arabica and a small percentage of Robusta. Now that's somewhere around 45-48 million," says Hetzel.

With rust and drought affecting the crop this is a prime time for coffee loss.

Even though we are going through a struggle to yield as much coffee as usual both Hetzel and Kahn laughed at the idea of coffee completely going extinct by 2050. Chances are a fresh cup of joe will still be on the menu.

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