Technology And The Future of Coffee Production

My reading lately has been focused on how science and technology are influencing agriculture, specifically coffee agriculture. I’ve shared some of the articles via Twitter (@OilSlickCoffee). It is inevitable that coffee production will become more industrialized and that is a good thing. Here are some of the ways coffee production will change:

Genetic engineering is the future

The article is indeed long, but stuffed full of useful information and I think it does a good job of laying a foundation first, so that genetic engineering can be better understood. I think this will go a long way towards removing irrational fear of the unknown some may have of GMOs.

One of the disadvantages of breeding coffee trees in order to incorporate desired traits (natural, genetic modification) is that it takes a typical coffee tree three-to-five-years to fully mature and begin full fruit production. With labratory genetic modification, we could reduce the time it takes to test cross-breading and trait acceptance. I doubt that we are able to keep up with climate change at the current rate and therefore will constantly be reacting to, rather than anticipating field conditions. We are only beginning to study how climate change in the past is currently affecting us.

Robotic farming

This video was shared by the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics and while it isn’t coffee-centric, it is the future of agriculture. Just as the plow became an indispensible tool allowing farmers to work larger plots, so too will robotics.

And here is a video from a technology contracting company promoting drones for more efficient crop/plot planning and planting:

This is why I think future farmers; the children of current farmers, would be wise to learn robotics and coding. I also think by incorporating such technology on the coffee farm, we stand a better chance of engaging the next generation of coffee farmers. We are already seeing a problem with lack of interest in taking over the family farm in a lot of the coffeelands. At the World Coffee Producer’s Forum last year, we had a roundtable exercise dedicated to exploring ways of engaging the next generation.

Expanding scientific research and understanding

The University of California, Davis recently opened its coffee center, with the hopes of being “at the forefront of cutting edge coffee science and education.” A new, dedicated center for coffee not only illustrates coffee’s importance as a global commodity, it also illustrates the historical neglect coffee research has received.

We’re seeing bigger companies—a vital source of research money—funding programs like this. LaMarzocco pledging $.75M to UCDavis, and Suntory funding the coffee gene sequencing project are just two examples.

In many coffee-producing countries, there is very little centralized research and development of the sector. For example, Indonesia has the Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute (ICCRI), but isn’t nearly as engaged with farmers as the Colombian Coffee Grower’s Organization (FNC) is in Colombia. More government and NGO participation is needed in a lot of producing countries and I think this is starting to happen (the Indonesian government seems to be trying, via the Wonderful Indonesia initiative).

It is inevitable that science and technology influence coffee production and it’s in our best interest, as the specialty coffee industry, to help steer and guide that progress to ensure that quality and sustainability remain at the top of the list of goals to achieve. While it is important to maintain meaningful traditions, we shouldn’t let them get in the way of improvement! We also shouldn’t let fear of the unknown excert too much influence over our decisions to pursue scientific and technological advancements.

Updated March 12, 2019; replaced broken embedded video

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Michael C. Wright

Michael is a licensed Q Grader, licensed Q Processor Pro, an Authorized SCA Trainer (AST), and most recently, a graduate with a degree in horticulture and a concentration in horticultural business management. He has over ten years experience in the coffee industry operating on both the supply and demand sides of the value chain.