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The Impact of Fertilizer Shortage and Price Increase for Coffee Producers

The coffee industry is currently facing challenges from different fronts, climate change, war, inflation, logistic delays and higher transportation costs which is creating an effect on both ends of the coffee value chain. The most recent challenge due to the war in Ukraine is the scarcity of supplies that puts at risk the future of coffee production. In addition to that, the high labor costs and the uncertain future for new generations willing to work at the farms is concerning coffee producers.

We discussed these issues with Francisco Quezada aka Chespi, coffee producer from finca La Labor and Vizcaya Estates, who explained how all this is now impacting the day to day of a coffee producer and what he expects from the market in order to keep striving for the greatest coffee quality.

The Real Problem

Unexpected rains and the temperature increase lead to more leaf rust proliferation; the reproduction cycle of this fungus is due to the drastic changes in temperature, therefore, if producers reduce their fertilization plans or the external factors force them to stop fertilizing which could be the case for smallholder producers, we will expect diseases to increase.

“Fertilizers are the cake’s flour” says Francisco, and this is one of the basis for coffee quality. Climate change in general might be something manageable for a producer thanks to their strong adaptability. The real problem is the cost increase, and the market needs to understand this fast, explains Francisco.

According to the International Coffee Organization, global coffee production will fall 2.1% to 167.2 million bags for the current year, pulled down by a 7.1% decline in arabica beans.

The Producer’s Strategy

According to Francisco, the coffee plant is one of the most studied crops which means that the supplies needed to keep the crop productive are already established. This explains that coffee trees can’t survive in the long term without sufficient nutrients and while today producers are adapting to the price increase, paying more for fertilizers or in the worst case applying either half of the fertilizers and incurring in other strategies to keep preparing their crops, Chespi explains that the consequences of this will be noticed by harvest 2023-2024.

The strategy is to strictly do what is necessary to keep coffee crops at the lowest cost, some producers will have no choice but to use less nutrients which will reduce the crop's yield. Chespi explains that there are now cases in which producers are considering growing corn which incurres less costs.

According to Juan Luis Barrios, president of Anacafé, Guatemalan growers are considering tapping organic compost materials including chicken manure, household waste and coffee-cherry pulp to cut on fertilizers.

In the middle and long term, planting fine Robusta could become an alternative for some producers. In the south coast of Guatemala this is already the case. Will that be the case in other parts of the country?

Coffee production is not like it used to be, producers now have to deal with many variables. And globalized problems definitely create a direct impact in the day to day life of a producer. “Many are the difficulties but I’m confident that the market will demand more high quality coffee from Guatemala '' says Francisco.

This calls for more support to producers in terms of deeper understanding of their costs and how the market can take action to maintain their relationships in the long term.

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