How does rainfall affect coffee production?

Aidan Gant
July 18, 2022
How does rainfall affect coffee production?

Coffee producers often walk a fine line between an abundant harvest and a poor one.

The impact of a bad crop yield can have devastating and long-term effects on rural communities. Factors such as weather patterns and rainfall affect coffee production and directly impact crop yields. However, these are largely out of the producer’s control.

Climate change is now demonstrably harming the livelihoods of coffee farmers across the bean belt. Intense weather patterns created by the climate crisis are causing unpredictable results and lower than average harvest yields.

With climate change comes changing rainfall patterns, which will undoubtedly affect coffee production. Low rainfall during the late growing season increased the risk of coffee beans being below average size.

Conversely, high rainfall and high temperatures during the harvest season may increase the risk of green bean defects.

To find out more about how rainfall affects coffee production, I spoke with corporate sustainability professional Allie Stauss.

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Image of how torrential rainfall affect coffee production and the effects of climate change on coffee production.

The effects of climate change on coffee production

Climate change and farmer profitability are two existential crises that the coffee industry faces.

Faced with worsening conditions, farming communities are struggling to maintain their businesses. Furthermore, as the situation worsens, their jobs are becoming more demanding, often for smaller rewards.

“As the global average temperature increases and precipitation patterns become more variable,” says Allie, who is also a certified supply chain analyst. “The experience of coffee smallholders across Latin America, Africa, and Asia is changing dramatically.”

The direct expression of temperature and rainfall changes comes in the form of extreme weather events, such as droughts, storms, frosts, and heat waves.

Drastic weather events and sporadic rainfall affect coffee production and can make cultivation more challenging.

“This may eventually cause farmers to move from their ancestral lands to places that are more conducive to growing coffee,” Allie says. “Particularly into higher elevations, where suitable land is already scarce.”

Intense weather events not only have a direct impact on coffee harvest yields, but are ushering in a suite of unrelated challenges. 

These include an increased prevalence of pests and diseases, most notably coffee borer beetles and leaf rust, which thrive in warmer, damper environments.

These difficulties are driving up production costs for several farmers. In many cases, the money has to come out of their share of the eventual profits from the crop. More so, these profits are already relatively small for most farmers.

An image of a ripe coffee bean showing how rainfall affect coffee production and the effects of climate change on coffee production.

How does rainfall affect coffee production?

Rainfall can affect coffee crop production in two fundamental ways. 

While droughts and heavy downpours are problematic in their own ways, arguably, too much rain is better than no rain at all.

Extended dry periods can lead to poor harvest yields, as the beans farmers manage to harvest from their parched trees tend to be smaller and underdeveloped.

This can harm the coffee’s cupping score, which, in turn, has a serious impact on the bank balance of farmers who are catering primarily to the specialty market.

For example, an expected 84+ lot that may have fetched top prices may be knocked back to a score that barely qualifies as specialty. Or, worse, a lot that would have scored around 80 may be lowered to commodity grade – for which the market rate is usually less than half.

On the other hand, heavy rainfall can be just as bad for coffee plants, particularly in growing regions that are not used to it.

When coffee cherries absorb a lot of water rapidly, they will either fall to the ground and ‌ferment. Or, they will split open and leak their mucilage, which often results in lighter beans with a lower cup score.

Additionally, the expectation of heavy rains may cause farmers to pick their cherries prematurely. Some farmers are willing to take a lower grade and cup score rather than risk losing a share of the crop altogether.

Furthermore, heavy rainfall can cause significant issues at processing mills. Coffees that have been left out to dry on raised beds will have to be dried all over again. This additional processing may further reduce quality, and in turn, the farmer’s profits.

Image of coffee farming drying coffee beans on raised drying beds, showing how rainfall affect coffee production and the effects of climate change on coffee production.

The future of coffee production

Coffee shops and roasters have the power to help increase a producer’s resilience to extreme weather.

They can donate directly to the cost of installing infrastructure to help producers adapt to more frequent adverse weather‌.

Additionally, they can help facilitate the implementation of sustainable practices at origin, in order to mitigate some of the environmental impact at the source.

“Climate adaptation and farmer prosperity are linked,” Allie says. “So, efforts to increase producers’ financial and climate resilience contribute to creating a more sustainable and enduring ecosystem for producing coffee.”

Notably, a growing number of coffee roasters, manufacturers, and traders are making investments in their supply chains. More so, they are setting science-based targets to address their carbon emissions, and driving for regenerative outcomes among their supply bases.

Allie believes these actions should be further supported by government policy in what she describes as a “critical decade” for the coffee industry and the planet.

“It is critical we understand climate change is not an impending issue that we will eventually have to address. It is happening now, and urgent action must be taken now.

“The best action roasters can take is to provide financial help to their supplying farmers. This can either be in the form of higher prices, multi-year purchasing contracts, or designated funds for impact projects on the ground.”

Better financial stability and availability of extra resources could enable farmers to plant disease-resistant and climate-resilient varieties, as well as regenerate the quality of the soil.

Beyond providing direct financial support to farmers, roasters can invest in coffee agricultural research and development that aims to improve the enabling environment around coffee farmers.

Additionally, both roasters and coffee shops can strive to reduce the carbon emissions of their operations.

Lastly, Allie says coffee professionals around the world can advocate for comprehensive climate action among their own governmental representatives, where possible.

Image of multilayer kraft paper coffee pouch, sustainable coffee packaging to help demonstrate how rainfall affect coffee production and the effects of climate change on coffee production.

Roasters and coffee shops owners who are looking to reduce the environmental impact of their organisation right away should invest in sustainable coffee bags.

At MTPak Coffee, it is our mission to support you and your business in doing the best you can for the climate crisis.

Our range of coffee packaging is 100% recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable and made from sustainable materials such as kraft and rice paper, as well as LDPE and PLA-lined bags.

Furthermore, we can use digital printing to customise coffee bags to help educate your customers about climate issues along the coffee supply chain. 

We have a 40-hour turnaround and 24-hour shipping time, allowing us to offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) of packaging, no matter what size or material.

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team.

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