How Starbucks is Working to Protect Vulnerable Coffee Crops in the Face of Climate Change

Posted: November 27, 2023 10:32 am

Climate change is impacting more than just the individual weather patterns across the planet. Global warming is also threatening coffee crops, especially the vulnerable arabica variety. The good news for coffee lovers is that Starbucks is stepping up to develop coffee varieties that are more resistant to the impacts of climate change. Read on for all of the details of what Starbucks is doing to find new solutions to this growing problem.

How Climate Change is Putting Coffee Crops at Risk

Coffee is a crop that is highly susceptible to temperature variations, changes in humidity levels, and light. Without the specific conditions needed to cultivate these beans, the coffee crops are in danger of failing to meet consumer demand.

The Inter-American Development Bank is warning that the environmental conditions needed to support ideal coffee crop growing conditions may not be met in the coming years across an area known as the coffee belt in Latin America. The bank recently detailed that an increase in temperatures in this corner of the world will reduce the land area needed to grow coffee by up to 50% by the year 2050.

This is clearly a concern for Starbucks, a global coffee chain responsible for purchasing approximately 3% of the planet’s coffee beans. With such a vested interest in the future of the crop, the company is working to develop new arabica varietals that are engineered to thrive under rising temperatures. Agronomists employed by Starbucks have been working for over a decade to cultivate these unique types of coffee trees to determine which varieties will produce the greatest amount of usable beans in a short amount of time.

After years of research, the experts at Starbucks have determined six specific varieties that meet the criteria for state and flavor. These flavor profiles encompasses a number of notes, including sugar, honey, citrus, herbal, and melon. The specific varieties also meet set standards of size, structure, and survivability.

Starbucks estimates that it purchases its beans from approximately 400,000 farmers spanning 30 different countries. The crops are used to supply coffee for nearly 36,000 storefronts.

Solutions to Beating Coffee Leaf Rust

One of the biggest problems facing coffee crop farmers is the issue of coffee leaf rust. This disease targets coffee trees and is worsened by the effects of climate change. Arabica coffee varietals are especially susceptible to the dangers of coffee leaf rust, necessitating the urgency to develop trees that are more resistant to the negative impacts of global warming.

Coffee leaf rust is most prevalent in areas experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures. Developing a coffee crop that is resistant to coffee leaf rust has been a key initiative for Starbucks and other companies with a notable interest in this product.

Environmentalists are also advocating for the coffee industry to move way from the large and industrialized coffee farm model that has been dominating the landscape in recent years. Experts largely agree that moving the crops back to the forest will naturally align the needs with the current status of the ecosystem. This is because nature is able to adapt to a changing climate faster than scientists can make these changes in a lab.

Recognizing this need, Starbucks launched a new initiative to invest money in forest protection and restoration in 2021. The company also said that it plans on continuing to test new varietals that may be able to withstand the impacts of climate change.

For example, Starbucks has found that varieties such as liberica and robusta are able to better withstand challenging weather patterns when compared to sensitive plants such as arabica. However, coffee farmers prefer to grow arabica because of consumer preferences. As such, Starbucks is trying to develop varietals that respond like robusta and liberica but taste like arabica.

Starbucks has listed securing the coffee supply chain as one of its primary goals in the coming years. Noting that disruptions to this supply chain will adversely affect the company’s business model, Starbucks has made it a priority to protect this chain.

The company has also definitively listed climate change as one of its most pressing concerns when it comes to guarding the company’s supply chain and keeping prices down. Starbucks asserts that it will remain focused on developing new ways to protect the future of coffee crops while also providing farmers with the tools that they need to assist in this effort on their end.

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