Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Starbucks’ first coffee farm to double as research centre

Coffee cherries affected by a tree-killing fungus known as roya fungus, or leaf rust, are pictured at the La Majada coffee farm in Ahuachapan, El Salvador, Jan. 10, 2013. Aggressive outbreaks of the blight have hit Central America’s major coffee-producing nations and Mexico.

STRINGER/EL SALVADOR/REUTERS

Starbucks Corp., the world's biggest coffee chain, said on Tuesday that it bought its first coffee farm, where it will research the leaf rust that is devastating Central American crops as well as harvest its own beans.

Starbucks, known for its trendy coffee shops around the world, has purchased an active farm on roughly 240 hectares in Costa Rica, which it will convert to a global agronomy research and development centre. Financial details were not disclosed.

With the farm's relatively low elevation, which ranges from 335 to 490 metres, the centre will research the roya fungus, also known as leaf rust, which kills coffee leaves by sapping them of nutrients and lowering bean yields.

Story continues below advertisement

This year, the blight has surprised farmers by climbing to altitudes above 1,000 metres for the first time in Central America and Peru. The fungus has also reached Mexico. Coffee trees growing at such high altitudes had never before been exposed to the disease, which is spread by the wind, and farmers were unprepared for the decimation it has brought.

So severe is the problem that Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla last week unveiled a proposal for a $40-million (U.S.) fund to help up to 40,000 farmers in the tiny Central American country who have been affected by the outbreak.

Central America and Mexico account for more than one-fifth of global output of arabica beans.

The International Coffee Organization (ICO) recently estimated that some 2.5 million 60-kg bags of crop could be lost in the 2012/13 global coffee output due to the disease, with losses possibly rising to around four million bags in 2013/14.

Based on ICO data, those forecasts would equate to between 18 per cent and almost 30 per cent of Central America's crop in 2011/12.

Starbucks' arabica coffee farm, which currently employs about 70 workers, will continue to harvest beans, to be roasted and sold by the company, a Starbucks spokeswoman said.

The centre also aims to help coffee farmers mitigate climate change and support long-term crop stability, programs that are part of Starbucks' goal to source 100 per cent of its coffee ethically by 2015. The investment is an extension of Starbucks' $70-million ethical sourcing program.

Story continues below advertisement

Starbucks defines ethical sourcing as a process that uses "responsible purchasing practices, farmer loans and forest conservation programs."

Starbucks will also look at innovating with proprietary coffee varietals that could lead to the development of future blends, chairman and CEO Howard Schultz said in a news release.

Report an error
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.