Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Climate and Coffee Rust Disease outbreak in Central American countries

Originally posted HERE. 
Many coffee farmers across Central America will not turn a profit in 2013 and some will even go out of business due largely to the near-epidemic levels of coffee rust disease occurring across the growing regions.

“Poor harvests and low market prices this year will deal a lethal blow to many marginal coffee farmers,” said Dr. Tim Schilling, Executive Director of WCR, World Coffee Research, at the Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University.

Total production of high-altitude, and thus high-quality, arabica coffee from Central America will be reduced significantly.  About 20% of all Central American coffee production due to rust and other diseases will be affected in this coffee cycle. The Guatemalan Coffee Board, ANACAFE, estimates that production in Guatemala will be significantly affected due to this year’s rust outbreak.

“Due to unusually high rainfalls at high altitude this year, the coffee rust disease has wreaked havoc on arabica coffee yields all across Central America,” Schilling said.

Meanwhile, Ric Rhinehart, Executive Director of SCAA, the Specialty Coffee Association of America, says “This is especially worrisome for the U.S. Specialty market that sources its beans from the small, high altitude farms in Central America.”

Hemileia vastatrix, or coffee rust, causes some damage in any year but can be devastating when conditions are especially favorable for its rapid growth.

“This year turns out to be just that…the perfect storm for coffee rust in Central America,” said Dr. Benoit Bertrand, coffee breeder from CIRAD, the French development agency that works with tropical crops.

High rust spore populations were left on the ground from last year and heavy rainfall allowed rust disease to multiply and rapidly attack coffee plant leaves, reducing physiological activity and thus the plant’s ability to produce.

“Those scenarios made this year’s rust attack particularly devastating”, Bertrand said. “In some cases, coffee bushes have lost all their leaves, branches have withered completely to the extent of sometimes killing off the entire tree.”

Many stakeholders in the coffee sector have wondered whether the severe outbreak of rust this year was due to a virulent ‘mutant’ race.  But work by CENICAFE scientists in Colombia proves that theory invalid.

“This year’s rust outbreak is not a new strain of the disease, but the same ‘RACE II’ of H. vastatrix commonly associated with rust damage in coffee around the world,” Bertrand said. “The outbreak can be credited to this year’s high continued rainfall.”

Schilling says it is likely that, “wild and extreme climate events like this will continue and cause more problems as time goes on.  We simply must invest in research to provide solutions to farmers while governments and the UN try to fix the global climate crisis.”

Most Central American coffee countries have already harvested this year’s crop while others continue to harvest. As such, the damage is done.  Farmers, governments and development agencies now pose a question as to how coffee rust disasters like that of Central America can be avoided in the future.  One of the surest short-term protection actions involves the application of a systemic fungicide to the coffee plant before the disease damages the plant.  Dose, timing and frequency depend on local conditions and recommendations. It is important to start the application with the first rains.

“Although the application of fungicides can be effective in the short term”, Bertrand says, “it is nevertheless expensive, laborious, and environmentally unsound”.

The best way to protect against rust in the medium and longer terms is through the use of a resistant variety of coffee.  The good news is that resistant varieties do exist and even some of the new F1 Hybrids from different sources possess rust resistance combined with other desirable agronomic traits.

The bad news Schilling says “is that the resistance to rust of nearly all available varieties is specific for only RACE II of the disease and that the resistant genes come from the robusta coffee species, a lesser quality species than arabica. For the quality coffee market, this is not the best of news.”

Not only are many of these varieties of inferior quality when compared to their arabica parents but, as the resistances come from a genetically very narrow source of robusta, when the disease produces a mutation, the world’s coffee varieties will be susceptible and what happened in 2012-2013 will be far worse with far greater world coffee production repercussions.

Fortunately, WCR, working together with PROMECAFE, CATIE, CIRAD and national coffee research institutes like CENICAFE, EMBRAPA and others are in the process of developing new pre-breeding populations that will possess more than 10 times the level of genetic diversity used to produce today’s coffee varieties.  It is expected that the increased diversity will result in new rust resistance genes with arabica backgrounds and thus high quality.

“We’re confident that the work we’re doing together with the excellent work of the national programs in Colombia, Brazil, Kenya and PROMECAFE will alleviate the problem,” Schilling said. “WCR is working together right now with these institutions and NGO’s like FTUSA and other stakeholders to organize an emergency conference to figure out what to do to control and prevent rust in the short, medium and long terms in a coordinated and sustainable way.”

Blog Contributed by: Hannah Booth

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Good Morning Agriculture

At Texas A&M University we have a time-honored tradition that comes in handy in front of any audience. A room full of chatty, loud aggies can be instantaneously brought to focus with one booming word. “Howdy,” shouts the speaker and in the blink of an eye the entire room shouts back in unison, “Howdy!” The task is done. Every pair of Aggie eyes and ears is focused on the one person at the front of the room, waiting for what the speaker has to share. It’s incredible that one little word can capture the attention of a large group of students.

Fellow Aggies, it’s time to give the world a “Howdy” loud and clear. It is time for the world to know what the agriculture industry and its members are really about. It is time to shout, “Good Morning Agriculture!” Let’s all wake up and tell our story. We need to spread the word that agriculturalists are the true providers and stewards of the world. People often are misinformed or don’t have the knowledge they need to understand what we do and why we do it.

As a group of AgVocates we need to focus on being more proactive than reactive. Education is the key to harmony for agriculture. The majority of people who oppose our practices so fiercely are often times those who simply don’t know. All of us should aim to educate as opposed to immediately condemning their ideas of what agriculture truly is.

The Farmers Fight organization has deemed the theme of their second annual Farmers Fight day on campus “Giving the 4-1-1 on Agriculture”. In conjunction with their theme, the members of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Student Council have decided to promote agriculture as well as the Farmers Fight movement by producing a series of informative videos leading up to the day of Farmers Fight on campus.

However, this cannot be done without you. We want to know what topics you would choose to educate the public on. What area of agriculture are you the most passionate about and what does the general public need to realize about that area? The Council wants to know what the students of Texas A&M want the world to understand. This is your chance to choose what you want put on the table to be shared with the public. To submit your ideas and thoughts for these videos please send them via email to

United as a group of passionate advocates of agriculture, we can capture the public’s attention. Together lets shout “Howdy” and let our voices be heard not only at Texas A&M but around the world.

Blog contributed by: Chloe Geye

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Year of the Farmer

April 12, 2012 was a date that young agricultural enthusiasts across Texas A&M University’s campus will never forget. It was the day that launched the now-renowned Farmers Fight, a group of passionate students on a mission to make a difference and share their agricultural story. While our campus connection and community outreach events were successful and a few of our social media efforts even went viral, those of us involved knew that this was only the beginning.

Since April, hundreds of advocates have been diligently planning to continue and grow Farmers Fight. By adding new dimensions to the movement such as the National Advocate Conference (coming to College Station October 2013) and through continuous networking with industry professionals at events like the NCBA Convention, visibility of our efforts and mission have spread across the nation. We remain united by a love and appreciation for agriculture and a desire to educate the public on the role this industry plays in everyone’s life.

And so a new year has begun. A year that offers promise to agriculturalists for a brighter future. A year that has even been dubbed “The Year of the Farmer” by National FFA, Ram Trucks and Case IH. This is the year to make an even bigger, bolder and broader impact on the world as we advocate agriculture.

Together, we will help the public “Get the 4-1-1 on Agriculture.” Now, you might already know this, but Farmers Fight will be at it again to promote agriculture on the Texas A&M University campus, this time on April 11, 2013.

We are excited for what is yet to come for Farmers Fight and, as always, we are open to suggestions and welcome new advocates with open arms. As Margaret Mead once said, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  

Students interested in getting involved with Farmers Fight are encouraged to attend the general advocate meeting on Wednesday, February 17, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. in AGLS 115. For questions, please e-mail
Blog Contributed By: Mollie Lastovica, Farmers Fight Communications Lead Advocate