The study examined how coffee-growing conditions will change by 2050 based on projections from several global climate models. Results show that coffee plants will be “drastically” less suitable for cultivation in current coffee-producing regions by 2050 because of the impacts of climate change.
Arabica coffee, which is used by Starbucks and other major coffee sellers, is already a finicky crop that requires specific conditions to flourish. Currently the most suitable areas for coffee growth are in Central and South America, particularly Brazil, as well as Central and West Africa and parts of South and Southeast Asia, according to the study by Roman Grüter and others at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland.
Over the next 28 years, projected climate change impacts to those areas will make them far less friendly to coffee crops, the report found.
“The main coffee producing countries investigated (Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, Colombia) are all seriously affected by climate change with a strong decline in suitable areas … and an increase in unsuitable areas by 2050,” according to the report, which noted that higher temperatures make it harder to grow coffee.
The study also looked at how climate change will impact growing conditions for cashews and avocados. For those items, rising temperatures could actually create new viable growing environments in some areas, according to the report. Coffee, however, “proved to be most vulnerable, with negative climate impacts dominating in all main producing regions,” the study found.
The authors concluded that for all three crops, “climate change adaptation will be necessary in most major producing regions.” That could include breeding varieties that are better suited to the new conditions. And in the case of coffee, it might also mean switching to Robusta trees, which are hardier but produce beans generally considered to be of lower quality than Arabica beans.
“In the worst case, it could also mean that farmers would have to shift to a different crop,” Grüter told CNN Business, adding that it’s “difficult to say at what point and where this will happen.”
Some companies are already preparing for the changing conditions. Starbucks (SBUX), for example, is distributing climate-resistant coffee varietals to farmers and working to protect at-risk forests in important coffee growing areas, among other initiatives.
Coffee prices spike
Coffee prices have already been spiking due to bad weather.
Severe drought and unusual frost conditions in Brazil, the world’s largest supplier of coffee beans, have driven up coffee futures.
Retail prices for US coffee prices grew 6.3% last year, below inflation overall. Major coffee companies including Starbucks buy coffee far in advance at set prices. But eventually, price hikes will hit consumers. Tighter supply will only exacerbate the situation.
Coffee is just one category of food impacted by extreme weather. Droughts, storms and frost, previously rare or unheard of in some areas, are becoming the norm in farming regions around the world, making it difficult for farmers to plan ahead, wreaking havoc on food supplies and driving up prices.
CNN’s Matt Egan contributed to this report.