At least, that’s what the songi tells us. But you would be wrong to think that now, for the times are apparently changing, and climate change is wreaking devastation on the coffee crop in Brazil. Not global warming, mind you, but climate change, or perhaps even climate chaos. For this year’s coffee crop in Brazil hasn’t suffered from heat, but from frosts. According to the Guardianii:

Farmers in coffee-producing regions of Brazil have been grappling with a string of droughts in recent years and while frosts are common in July and August, the suddenness and severity of the most recent event caught producers by surprise.

Freezing temperatures struck in late July after an unprecedented Antarctic front resulted in snow falling in the hills and frost spreading across coffee trees in the Cerrado Mineiro region of Minas Gerais state.

A couple of weeks later the BBC confirmed the situationiii, though in doing so put more stress on drought than on frosts as being the cause of the problem in Brazil:

Brazil’s most severe drought in almost a century is partly to blame for a disappointing coffee harvest this year.

Combined with frosts and the natural cycle of harvests, it has contributed to a significant fall in coffee production.

The BBC article also alludes to another problem suffered by Brazil because of drought:

With most of the country’s electricity coming from hydroelectric power using reservoirs, the lack of water is having a direct impact on the country’s energy supply.

As energy prices go up, the authorities are asking people to limit their electricity use to avoid rationing. The energy minister said that government agencies had been asked to reduce their electricity use by 20%…

That’s one of the many problems of going “green” and relying on unreliable sources of “renewable” energy. 2021 has seen shortfalls of wind in western Europe and shortfalls of hydro power in Brazil. It’s maybe not such a good idea to put all one’s energy eggs in a single basket, after all, but that’s another story.

Still, that’s the problem with looking into things. One thing leads to another. Wikipediaiv refers to the 2014-17 drought in Brazil as the worst there in 100 years (the drought of 1877-80 being the worst there in recorded historyv) and suggests that it is linked to the deforestation of the Amazon. It also alludes to the problems caused for Brazil’s electricity generation:

As 70% of Brazil’s electricity is generated by hydropower, the lack of water lead to energy rationing in addition to water rationing. In response to decreased hydroelectric power, rolling power cuts were instituted. Water and electricity prices were expected to rise a month or two after the elections in October. Power utilities In Brazil stated that the loss of hydro-generating capacity had cost them 15.8bn reais (£4.3bn). Most of this was spent on more expensive alternative such as oil and other carbon-based fuels that filled the gap in electricity supply. This in turn pushed up Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions in the years of 2015 to 2017.

Sometimes “green” isn’t so “green” apparently.

Never known to undersell climate issues, by contrast, the Guardian in January 2015vi was talking about “Brazil’s worst drought in history”. Despite the hyperbolic headline, at least the Guardian had the decency to admit that the situation was complicated:

As well as global warming, they say Brazil’s weather patterns have been disrupted by the loss of Amazon rainforest and the growth of cities.

Where was I? Oh yes, coffee.

Historical Prices

There is nothing unusual, it seems, in the price of coffee being relatively high at the moment. A very useful websitevii offers us an interactive price of coffee (priced in US$) going back to 1969, and the price of $2.016, as of 18th October 2021, is far from unusual, with price spikes of well over $2.50 on four occasions since 1969. This year’s price increase of 57.19% to date is also far from unusual, with 2010 seeing a 76.9% price increase; 2004 seeing a 59.74% increase; 1994 seeing a 135.99% increase; 1985 seeing a 69.63% increase; and 1976 seeing a price increase of 157.25%.

That 1976 price spike appears to have been caused by a combination of the collapse of quota systems in 1973 and a heavy frost in Brazil in 1975 (yes, the climate chaos Brazilian frosts are nothing new), as the Daily Coffee News websiteviii tells us.

Historical coffee frosts in Brazil

The Coffee Research website includes a very interesting tableix setting out the history of frosts in Brazil which have affected the coffee crop there between 1900 and 2000. It seems that there was a frost event roughly every four years, with 24 such events being listed between 1902 and 2000. Interestingly, the only such incident described as “devastating” was that which occurred in 1902. The only “very severe” event was the frost in 1975, to which reference has already been made above (although in fairness the 1994 event seems to have been borderline, and is described as severe/very severe). Of the other eight “severe” frosts listed in the table, the preponderance of such events seems to have been earlier rather than more recently, with the 1950s being particularly problematic – 1918; 1942; 1953; 1955; 1957; 1966; 1981; and 1999. Perhaps this historical information suggests that global warming is real, with frosts becoming less frequent in Brazil, despite the 2021 event. However, if so, that would be cause for less, not more, alarmism around the Brazilian coffee industry and climate change.

Indeed, if the Coffee Research website is to be believed (and they, not I, are the experts), there is precious little cause for concern:

Further, as more Brazilian coffee farmers move north to avoid frost problems, the Brazilian coffee production will not fluctuate as dramatically when a frost occurs. This, however, will lead to an overabundance of coffee worldwide that may keep coffee prices low throughout the world. As Vietnam boosts its Arabica production, the oversupply of coffee will likely become the most pressing issue in the specialty coffee industry.

Conclusion

As always, the Guardian (in the first of its articles referred to above) seeks to make a climate change story out of problems associated with Brazilian coffee:

Scientists have long warned climate change is coming for our morning coffee and a recent spike in global bean prices could be the first sign it’s actually happening.

Global coffee prices are forecast to jump to $4.44 a kilogram this year, according to IBISWorld, after a July cold snap in a major arabica coffee-producing region of Brazil wiped out a third of the crop….

…The increasing volatility and frequency of extreme weather events in Brazil are attributed to climate change.

The worry now is that rising temperatures will lower both humidity and rainfall, leading to more prolonged periods of drought. By some calculations, Brazil has not had a typical rainy season since 2010.

…Prof Lesley Hughes, a spokesperson with the Climate Council and a distinguished professor of biology at Macquarie University, said farmers around the world were reporting similar experiences with fires, flood and drought.

We’re also increasingly seeing farmers going bankrupt because there is just one extreme climate event too many, and some of these extremes are compounding. Going from a fire to a flood and then into a drought, for example,” Hughes said.

Climate change is a known long-term risk to crops like coffee, chocolate and wine grapes that require specific conditions to thrive.

As a tropical crop, coffee trees struggle in low temperatures and begin to die in sub-zero temperatures as ice particles “burn” their leaves. Because the plants take several years to establish, any significant loss can threaten to knock out producers.

The coffee merchant and Brazilian expat Andre Selga said the uncertainty created by unusual weather patterns had made the industry “really tense”.

Most farmers have never seen anything like it,” Selga said.

Frost in that area is normal but not at that intensity and not at that altitude. I’ve heard of farmers that lost everything. All the plants. They’re waiting now to see if some of them can recover. They’ve lost their whole livelihood.”

Selga said the price of the green beans he imports has jumped 60% and while the cost of freight was a factor, he was more concerned about the increasing uncertainty created by climate change.

That seems to contain quite a few inconsistencies. I’m not a coffee grower and I’m not a climate change expert, but the brief historical summary above suggests to me that that however damaging recent climatic events have been in Brazil they are not unusual, and as always, the hype is overdone. Only time will tell whether the alarmists at the Guardian or this “keep calm and carry on” author is right. For now, though, I note that my local supermarket shelves are full of coffee and I can still buy a 200g jar of Nescafe Gold Blend for £4.00, which is as cheap as it has been for a long time (and our Taylor’s of Harrogate filter coffee is also as plentiful and as cheap as ever).

Endnotes

i “The Coffee Song” (occasionally subtitled “They’ve Got an Awful Lot of Coffee in Brazil”) is a novelty song written by Bob Hilliard and Dick Miles, first recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1946. Later that year it was recorded by The Smart Set, and by others in later years. The song caricatures Brazil’s coffee surplus, jokingly claiming that no other beverages are available.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Coffee_Song

ii https://www.theguardian.com/food/2021/sep/30/coffee-bean-price-spike-just-a-taste-of-whats-to-come-with-climate-change

iii https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-58868636

iv https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014%E2%80%932017_Brazilian_drought

v https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/drought-region-brazil

most agree that severe droughts occurred in 1639, 1724–1725, 1736–1737, 1745–1746, 1777–1778, 1791–1793, 1825–1827, 1845–1847, 1877–1880, 1888–1889, 1906, 1915, 1936, 1953, 1958, and 1979–1983. The social and economic consequences of several of these earned them the label grandes secas (great droughts).”

vi https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/23/brazil-worst-drought-history

vii https://www.macrotrends.net/2535/coffee-prices-historical-chart-data

viii https://dailycoffeenews.com/2014/10/06/a-brief-history-of-coffee-price-volatility-in-the-modern-era-1963-2013/

ix http://www.coffeeresearch.org/market/frosthistory.htm

16 Comments

  1. Mark,

    You are quite right. These headlines rarely stand up to close scrutiny. Even so — note to self: must go out and panic buy coffee.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Years ago Alex Cull did a couple of articles about calculations that are out there about how much water is using making burgers in the UK (30 trillion litres) or how much it takes to make a cup of coffee (100 litres) or a bar of chocolate.

    Emmott’s Big Wet Mac (Alex Cull)

    Emmott’s Wildly Wonky Chocolate Factoid Factory


    What you do to get 100 litres into a single cup is measure the entire annual rainfall on the coffee plantation; divide by the number of cups produced, add a bit for refreshments and a shower for the workers, and announce the result to self flagellating greenies so they realise just how much water they’re stealing from drought stricken tropical countries. If they’d just stop producing coffee they wouldn’t be going thirsty.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Geoff, that brings back memories… Wondering what’s happened to Stephen Emmott – he seems to have quietly dropped off the radar.

    Like

  4. Joe Public, thanks for the data.

    Geoff, I suspect the alarmism around coffee is because it’s so popular in the western world, especially the USA. We don’t seem to see the same levels of alarmism around tea, for instance.

    Like

  5. There were a few servings of tea-related climate stories back in May this year, when a Christian Aid report warned about erratic rainfall in Kenya.

    “Climate crisis threatens British cup of tea as rising temperatures hit top growing countries”, said the Indy.
    “Climate change is bad news for tea drinkers”, warned the Church Times.
    “No storm in a teacup as research finds climate change threatens future of the British cuppa”, quipped Sky News.

    I haven’t seen the report, but did find this:

    Click to access TeaTimePrayer.pdf

    So, as we were “the first to knit the deadly tea cosy of CO2” according to Boris, could there be some retributive tea-time climate karma brewing for the UK?

    If there is, the global stats (as of 2019, anyway) don’t seem to be showing it yet:
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/264188/production-of-tea-by-main-producing-countries-since-2006/

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mark,

    Stood by the kettle tonight, I happened to mention to my wife that I’d heard that the Brazilian coffee bean harvest had suffered this year. Quick as a flash, she responded with “They’re always having a bad harvest. Tell me some news.”

    I suppose that this is what they call common knowledge then.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. “Climate change: Key crops face major shifts as world warms”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-60141387

    “The parts of the world suitable for growing coffee, cashews and avocados will change dramatically as the world heats up, according to a new study.

    Key coffee regions in Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam and Colombia will all “drastically decrease” by around 50% by 2050.

    Suitable areas for cashews and avocados will increase but most will be far from current sites of production.

    The authors say that greater efforts must be made to help farmers adapt.”

    Yet another study. Apparently:

    “Coffee is the most susceptible crop to high temperatures. In those countries accounting for the majority of the world’s production of Arabica – the dominant coffee variety – suitability for growing the crop will decrease by around half by 2050 – a “drastic” reduction, according to the report.

    Some key areas will see a heavier impact. In the lowest temperature scenario, there would be a reduction of 76% in Brazil’s most suitable areas for coffee. In Colombia it would shrink by 63%.”

    Like

  8. Not a word about climate change here:

    “Yemen’s coffee farmers bid to win over baristas to their heritage beans
    Auction in London aims to help rural growers and put ‘birthplace of good coffee’ back on the map for connoisseurs”

    https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/sep/12/yemens-coffee-farmers-bid-to-win-over-baristas-to-their-heritage-beans

    The beans that have grown across Yemen’s harsh mountain landscapes for more than 600 years have been largely overlooked by modern coffee connoisseurs….

    …Jalal Yahya al-Emadi, another Haraaz coffee farmer, says coffee production is having a social as well as economic impact in Yemen, as it has allowed farmers to stop growing khat – a narcotic that had replaced coffee as a cash crop.

    “Because of the economic and political conditions, the lives of farmers are hard. The climate is difficult but coffee grows well,” says Emadi, who keeps photos on his phone of beans drying on land where khat had been grown before.

    “It [khat] was the main crop for the farmers but we managed to change to growing coffee. Khat requires a lot more water to grow, it requires chemicals, it causes disputes between farmers – it has a massive impact on our society,” he says, “Many people will sit there all day alone, just chewing it.

    “My dream now, is for my coffee to reach the world.”

    Like

  9. The following isn’t about coffee crops, but about other crops in Brazil. The story does seem to pull the rug from under the feet of the alarmists bemoaning climate change in Brazil:

    “Crop Production in Brazil Outpaces Storage Capacity”

    https://www.agfax.com/2022/11/28/crop-production-in-brazil-outpaces-storage-capacity/

    While Brazil hits successive records in grain production, Brazilian farmers face an old problem: a deficit in grain storage. The Brazilian government projects national grain output will be 313 million tons of soybeans, corn, cotton, rice, and wheat in the 2022/2023 crop season – which would be a new record. That would be 15% higher than last season, when Brazilian farmers harvested an all-time high of 271 million tons of grain.

    Like

  10. “This year, I only needed to open my window in Brazil to witness the climate crisis
    Eliane Brum
    My snapshot of 2022 shows the Amazon burning – but what it doesn’t communicate is the pain”

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/dec/29/this-year-i-only-needed-to-open-my-window-in-brazil-to-witness-the-climate-crisis

    Ihave covered the Amazon as a journalist for almost 25 years. It started in 1998, with a trip along the Trans-Amazonian Highway. In 2017, I moved to the city of Altamira in Pará, northern Brazil; it is the centre of the deforestation, forest fires and social devastation caused by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. I moved here because I no longer wanted to be just a “special correspondent to the Amazon”, but so I could describe what was happening to the largest tropical forest on the planet from the inside. Despite this long experience, 2022 was the first year in which I watched the forest burn from the window of my home. I didn’t need to go to the fire, as journalists normally do. The fire had come to me.

    The photo I’ve chosen, taken by my husband, is from the night of 27 August. Later, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research revealed that it was the worst August for fires in the Amazon since 2010. Fires and deforestation rose considerably under Jair Bolsonaro who, this year, was narrowly defeated in the presidential election by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, or Lula, as he is better known.

    Watching the forest burn from my window is, for me, like some kind of anti-metaphor. When Greta Thunberg said: “Our house is on fire!”, in the Amazon the image is literal. It already feels like a cliche to say we don’t need to read scientific reports to understand the climate crisis, we just have to open our windows. International agencies list Brazil among the countries with the highest number of murders of environmental defenders, or of people killed in “conflicts” over land. For me, it is more than a statistic. I know people who have died, I have suffered with their families. And I reject the word “conflict”. “Massacre” would be more appropriate…

    Much of what is going on in Brazil is profoundly depressing to environmentalists, but what is described above has nothing to do with climate change, and strikes me as very misleading. Shame on you, Guardian!

    Here’s the 2022 reality:

    “Coffee production is expected to reach 55.7 million bags in the 2022 harvest”

    https://www.gov.br/en/government-of-brazil/latest-news/2022/coffee-production-is-expected-to-reach-55-7-million-bags-in-the-2022-harvest

    Brazilian Coffee production is expected to reach 55.7 million bags in the 2022 harvest. The estimate, if confirmed, represents an increase of 16.8% compared to production in 2021.

    According to the first survey of the 2022 harvest, released last January by the National Supply Company (Conab), the expected production is 55.7 million 60-kilo bags….

    And it’s not just coffee that has thrived under benign climatic conditions:

    “Brazil produces record wheat crop second year in a row”

    https://news.agropages.com/News/NewsDetail—45114.htm

    The 2022 wheat harvest in Brazil is complete and for the second year in a row, Brazil has produced a record wheat crop. According to Conab, Brazil produced a record 9.5 million tons of wheat in 2022, which was up 24% compared to 2021…

    Like

  11. I’ll leave this here. I can’t bring myself to comment – words fail me:

    “How to be a more environmentally friendly coffee drinker”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64293750

    When it comes to making a cup of coffee, capsules have a reputation for being environmentally unfriendly, as they are often hard to recycle.

    But new research by the University of Quebec in Canada suggests that pods may not be as wasteful as preparing coffee using a traditional coffee maker.

    The study gives new insight on the climate impact of the world’s most popular drink: it is estimated that two billion cups of coffee are consumed daily worldwide, with the average American drinking three cups a day…

    …Despite their popularity, capsules have long divided coffee drinkers who are conscious of the effect their caffeine habit has on the environment.

    The small plastic or aluminium pods have been criticised for being energy-intensive to produce and for causing “unnecessary waste”. The German city of Hamburg even went as far as banning their use from state-run buildings in 2016.

    However, researchers now say that pods may not be as wasteful as other ways of making coffee, especially when looking at the broader life cycle of a single cup….

    Like

  12. we are bombarded with this sh*t every day, what a dreary life these people must lead (or are they having a laugh).

    Like

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