Recently having traveled extensively through Honduras and Costa Rica, I went to check out the growing issue of Roya (Leaf Rust) and its effects on the coffee crop. First let’s talk about Honduras. We can expect anywhere from 15% to 35% crop losses for next year. The wide discrepancy is due to area elevation and types of trees. Studies have found that coffee trees at lower elevations are more susceptible to Leaf Rust and plants like Liberica are better resistant. Roya, or Leaf Rust, first appeared in Africa, specifically Kenya, around 1861. By the 1920’s it spread to most of Africa and to Asia. It did so much damage to the Philippines, Java and Malaya that it caused each country’s coffee industry to collapse and caused Sri Lanka to become a big player in tea. The fungus discovered in Brazil in 1970 was the first to be found in the Western Hemisphere. It is now found worldwide. Its spores are spread by wind, rain, animals and humans and is difficult, if not impossible, to isolate. The spreading of the spores can spread up to 300,000 to 400,000 spores per lesion. I personally observed farms with 60-70% Roya losses and then at the next farm over only a 5% loss. Since this is a fungus, it spreads mainly by air and I am sure the spores can also be on the unwary picker who moves from farm to farm.
In Costa Rica farmers have more money to fight the fungus by spraying a solution of copper directly on the underside of the leaves. All in all Central America will need some $300 million to fight the Roya problem. Bottom line is buy Centrals now. The differentials will only go up. Not only will these coffees be higher priced, it will be tough to find them. If you have any questions, or for a more in depth analysis, please call the Westlake Village office at 805-379-5252 and speak directly to us.