Sustainable coffee is produced on a farm with high biological diversity and low chemical inputs. It conserves resources, protects the environment, produces efficiently, competes commercially, and enhances the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.
                                                      -- Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, First Sustainable Coffee Congress.

JM Smucker Company, one of the largest coffee buyers in the world, has issued their 2015 corporate responsibility report. Smucker’s is the owner of Folger’s, Millstone, Café Bustelo, Café Pilon, and Dunkin Donuts retail brands; coffee represents the largest portion of the company’s sales and a 2015 profit of $549 million. This is their fifth CRR, and is as tiresome and uninformative regarding efforts to source sustainably-grown coffee as the four previous versions. Here are the previous posts:

The reports tend to lack relevant, quantitative data. Thus, an update in the 2015 report on their goal to have 10% of their retail coffee purchases be third-party certified (primarily UTZ Certified) by 2016 was a welcome tidbit. Smucker’s stated that in fiscal year 2015, they had reached 8%, up 2% from 2014. As I’ve previously noted, we don’t know the total amount of coffee the company purchases. The last figures available from 2013  estimate it at 300,000 tons. Nor do we know what proportion of total purchases consists of retail purchases.

In last year’s report, Smucker’s announced a show of their commitment to certified, sustainable coffee with their introduction of an UTZ Certifed brand, Life is Good. It has already been discontinued, although that fact was not included in this year’s report.

Once again, large sections of the green coffee sustainability portion of the report are copied wholesale, with little or no rewording, from previous years.

My favorite part of the report was the table on page 44, intended to highlight company activities in some coffee-sourcing countries. There were a few generic facts about coffee production, but the table said nothing about the company’s “direct global engagement.” Each spot in the table where that information was apparently supposed to appear was filled in with the words Type of Activities.


I think this is the equivalent of the “Hello World! This is your first post” placeholder.

What does it say when a company can’t be bothered to properly complete a report, or competently proofread it? This kind of indifference combined with the perennial lack of originality in the Smucker CRRs is insulting to stakeholders. It demonstrates a shortfall of sincerity in the company’s desire to inform the public about their coffee sustainability efforts in a transparent, thorough, and meaningful way.

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Bird-friendly coffee short

by on August 28, 2015

SongbirdSOS Productions Inc. is a Canadian company that has produced a film about the decline of North American songbirds called The Messenger. It’s slated for worldwide release within the next year; you can view the trailer here. The 90-minute film covers many bird conservation issues, including a segment on the connection between coffee and bird habitat. In that spirit, the producers have also created a video short on that topic, A Coffee Primer for Birds & People. Three minutes of my friend Robert Rice of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center talking about how and why of Bird-Friendly coffee certification, which they developed. It’s a great overview, with a lot of beautiful footage of birds on coffee farms. Take a look:

The company is extending their initial fundraising campaign to help with outreach costs. Learn more and support their project here.

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The Journal of Insect Science recently published an open-access paper: A coffee berry borer (Coleoptera: Curculionidae: Scolytinae) bibliography.  This updates previous compilations of research, and now contains nearly 1900 references from mostly peer-reviewed sources. This very useful resource can be downloaded from the journal home page here.

I also maintain a bibliography of peer-reviewed papers focused on coffee growing, biodiversity, certifications, and related issues on this page, updated periodically. I’ve included a link to the coffee berry borer paper there as well.

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Posted in Research on coffee growing,Uncategorized

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Regular readers may recall that I have done a series of posts on my experiment with growing coffee here at home. All of our trees were ready-to-harvestgrown from seed collected at various coffee farms we have visited in our travels. In honor of our two cats, we named our growing collection “Finca Dos Gatos.” Past posts are:

Since that last post, we moved, necessitating some adjustments to our set-up. Mainly, it was getting hard to manage the larger trees. So we have given a number of them away, including a couple to people who have greenhouses. I left myself with a few favorites.

The current inventory consists of:

Recently stumped coffee tree.

Recently stumped coffee tree.

  • Two trees from Finca Hartmann, Santa Clara, Panama, 2008. I have already had to prune (behead) both of these, they were just getting too large. One I’ve done twice, the last time just recently; it is currently a stump. The other I did last year, and it has a lot of new growth.
  • Finca Esperanza Verde, San Ramon, Nicaragua, 2009. One large tree from which we just harvested a crop of cherries.
  • El Jaguar, Jinotega, Nicaragua, 2011. A yellow caturra or catuai.
  • Selva Negra, Jinotega, Nicaragua, 2011. From a feral plant growing in the cloud forest reserve there, along the exact part of the trail where I saw my first Resplendent Quetzals.
  • A stumped tree after about a year of re-growth.

    A stumped tree after about a year of re-growth.

    Near Pico Bonito, outside La Ceiba, Honduras, 2011. This is a catimor that was growing at a lower elevation.

  • A couple of seedlings from some of the fruit I harvested.

Some new lessons

One critical issue I ran into after the move was water. We have well water here with a very high iron and mineral content, so it goes through a water softener. With everything that was going on, I did not give this proper consideration, and after a few months of watering with the softened water, the plants really suffered. I didn’t do lasting damage, but did end up watering only with rain water or jugs of good old Detroit city water I lugged home from work.

New growth on the catimor is a nice bronze color.

New growth on the catimor is a nice bronze color.

We still put the coffee outside in the summer, but our deck faces west and gets sun even under the overhang late in the day. I have learned that just like the veggies started indoors, coffee needs to be “hardened off” when going outside. They need protection from direct sunlight for a couple weeks; the leaves scorch easily. After awhile they can stand more sun, but not for long periods, especially in hot weather.

Finally, they still live under lights from about September through May. My previous system used four 6500K blue lights in a Sun Blaze fluorescent fixture. To induce blooming, I withheld most water for a few weeks, then watered like crazy, and switched out half the lights to 3000K red spectrum bulbs. Now that I have fewer trees and a nice room that gets good sunlight, I use just a single full-spectrum 60 watt bulb hanging within two feet of the trees. This is a great, inexpensive alternative, especially if you have only a few plants. The four-foot fixture provides more even and brighter light, but my southern exposure makes up the difference.

I’ve had plenty of fruit from these trees, although any given harvest isn’t really enough to roast itself. I’ve accumulated enough now that we could make a couple cups, but given that some of the green beans have been sitting in a cupboard for a couple years, I’m not sure how tasty the final result would be. Once the younger trees start producing good crops in two years, I’ll coordinate the flowering of all of them and see if I can’t do a proper harvest, processing, roasting, and tasting!


The latest pickings.


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