Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Fungus killing coffee plantations in Mexico, Central America

Published: Tuesday, May. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, May. 21, 2013 - 7:38 am

Coffee lovers probably won't hear much about la roya in the United States, but this fungal disease is decimating thousands of coffee farms across Mexico and Central America.

Pete Rogers isn't the average American coffee lover. He travels to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and other exotic locales to find and purchase green coffee beans for his family's company, Rogers Family Coffee of Lincoln.

Virtually every week, Rogers sees or talks with farmers who have lost everything to la roya. There is no known cure. Farmers must plant a variety of coffee tree resistant to the fungus and wait three years until they're mature enough to harvest.

"In 1971," Rogers said, "it entered the largest coffee producer in the world, which at that time was Sri Lanka, and it wiped out the coffee crop there. For three years, there was no coffee grown, and they just pulled out all the trees and gave up. In the early 1900s, the largest coffee producer was Haiti, and it did the same thing in Haiti. Haiti is a relatively minor player in the world of coffee right now."

Central America was expected to deliver 14 million bags of coffee to the market this year, Rogers said, but because of la roya, that number will be somewhere between 7 million and 9.5 million. Rogers said consumers probably won't feel the impact. (A bag of green coffee beans usually weighs 60 to 70 pounds).

"Brazil is aggressively planting more coffee, more coffee, more coffee," Rogers said, "and this year will produce 55 million bags, which is the largest crop in the history of Brazil. … Where they normally produce somewhere in the range of the high 30 millions to the low 40 millions, they're going to move 55 million bags."

The trouble is, Rogers said, is that his company and other specialty coffee roasters prefer beans from Mexico and Central America because their quality is generally better than most beans from Brazil. That's why Rogers is banging the drum on behalf of small farmers, hoping to find some aid to help them replace their diseased plants with a variety of coffee tree that is resistant to la roya.

"A hectare is 2.4 acres," Rogers said. "To plant a hectare and then take care of a hectare for three years, the total cost is $5,000 a hectare. Just in southern Mexico, we think the number will be about 200,000 hectares that need to be replaced."

If the land converts to other uses, Rogers said, Mexico and other nations will lose an agricultural product that actually helps restore the earth's health.

Wash up, dawg

In addition to your car, you can wash your dog at the new Orbit Wash on Ninth and T streets in Sacramento.

Your bicycle, too.

And you don't have to hunt for quarters at the self-serve stations of this carwash, because your plastic works just fine.

It seems as though owner Lane Leach has thought of every possible way to lure consumers over to his operation, but he called to share one more hook: "We have so many California state workers downtown, and we're going to be accepting the Voyager card. … It's pretty big for a small business in the car-care industry."

If state workers are going to get their fleet vehicle washed, Leach wants them to come his way and help him break even on the business he launched in December. Leach had bought the property with plans to build condos, but when the real estate market tanked, he took a second look at the former gas station and saw space-age potential.

"The property … looks like something out of 'The Jetsons,' … the cartoon from many a moon ago," said Leach, a real estate broker whose specialty is income properties. "… Shell Oil built the property in the late '50s or early '60s, and it's very midcentury modern as far as the architecture goes. I would have liked to call it the Jetsons Car Wash, but Hanna-Barbera probably would have sued me into the next century."

Leach has sighted officers from the California Highway Patrol getting their patrol cars washed, but he's yet to see a K-9 officer bring a dog in for a shampoo.

Gone but not forgotten

Sacramento auctioneer Brian Witherell got a lot more than he expected when he closed out his online auction earlier this month, bringing in $325,000. Witherell's auction house had expected to raise $200,000. A Maynard Dixon painting titled "Guard of the Cornfields" went for $69,000, 38 percent more than predicted. A "Daffodil" lamp made by Louis Comfort Tiffany fetched $35,460. You can check out the final sales prices at www.igavelauctions.com/auctions/witherells-spring-auction.

Call The Bee's Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow him on Twitter @cathiea_sacbee.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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