The worst drought Brazil has seen in fifty years is pushing coffee bean prices to new heights. As a result, Starbucks, the largest coffee company in the world, has halted coffee purchases over the past few weeks, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee. Arabica coffee futures, the most common bean variety sold in the US, have soared nearly 90 percent over the past year, and reached the highest price in two years on Tuesday. The surge was prompted by estimates that Brazil’s arabica crop, which was decimated by this year’s drought, will miss expectations by 18 percent. Overall, the world’s harvest is expected to fall short of demand by 11 million bags, — meaning coffee lovers may be forced to pay more for their morning cup.
Besides destroying coffee crops, the prolonged drought has wreaked havoc on Brazil’s water and electricity supplies. Now, the nation is bracing for El Niño, which promises an epic downpour that will be even worse for bone-dry coffee plantations. Some regions may lose over a third of their crops.
The cycle of drought and deluge is becoming all too familiar to farmers all over the world, and will only become more common as climate change brings more extreme weather patterns. Other commodity crops like cocoa and tea are also facing dire conditions as the climate becomes more unpredictable.
What’s more, warming temperatures are exposing arabica beans, which grow at an elevation range of 3,500 to 6,000 feet above sea level, to new pests and diseases that previously would not have been able to survive at those heights. Some agricultural researchers predict that the arabica bean will face extinction in a few decades.
Starbucks’ head of coffee told the Wall Street Journal the company has no current plans to raise prices, and is simply waiting to see if the price surge will subside. But if prices stay at their current exorbitant levels, Starbucks — and their customers — may have to accept a new normal.