I read articles all the time about the upcoming coffee shortage they are predicting. One of the main issues is a fungus - disease called "rust." Yes, it is real and it is a problem. Do the farmers know about it and try to prevent the spread, yes, of course. Does it seem to be getting worse each year? Yes, or so the local coffee farmers tell me. Since we have owned the farm, "rust" has been a problem, so I am not sure what it was like before.
What I do know is that a hurricane came close to Panama this last week. The only ever hurricane to ever touch Panama was in 1969 until this week. Although, I am not sure if Hurricane Otto this week was technically a hurricane as it was near Panama or if it was just a storm then, but the damage it did to coffee in Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua was very bad. Rain leaves losses $5 million in agriculture products - local Panama article in Spanish. While talking to other farmers in the area, many believe they already see a 50% decrease in their crops this year from the rust and I have not heard yet how much more after the storm. I think we were fairly lucky. Our trees were very healthy to begin with and I have no doubt we will have a smaller crop than we had hoped, but nothing like many other farmers in the area.
Not all farms are the same, much like any other crop. I am glad the effort was made to keep our crops extra healthy this year. As an example of how different the farms can be, the four pictures below were taken on the same afternoon, two are from our coffee farm and two are from a random coffee farm in the area. (I put an overall picture and a picture of a single tree for each farm, to give a clearer picture.) So glad our friend, mentor and neighbor took such good care of the farm while we were still in the U.S.!
This year coffee brokers seem to be offering higher prices than they were offering last year, I assume they feared there might be shortages coming, and that was even before the storm. (Still not enough to consider a living though.) These coffee brokers go around to all of the farms and make different offers buying all or some of the cherries. They take care of the processing and even the pickers in some cases. They combine all of the beans from the farms that they work with and eventually sell it to large companies such as Starbucks. These larger companies, then mix it with beans from other countries to create their own custom blend of coffee.
With the losses from the storm and rust this year, I expect the brokers will come back again, or new brokers will start coming around trying to round up even more farms so they can make their quotas. I understand why many farmers take this route. It is guaranteed money and no effort during the harvest as far as picking, processing, roasting, packaging and then trying to find buyers. My husband and I go back and forth on how much of our crop we should sell off this year. Since this is our first year that we are selling with our own label, we have no idea how much to hold back. Time will tell if we make the right decision or not.