SOMETHING is brewing in the Australian coffee industry courtesy of some concerted international negotiations.
Six new coffee varieties will be imported from Columbia and Brazil in a bid to stimulate the local industry.
The varieties are suited to subtropical growing conditions in Australia and will be trialled following negotiations between Australian, Columbian and Brazilian coffee industry officials.
According to the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation’s (RIRDC), Australia imports about 67, 000 tonnes of coffee and produces just over 1000 tonnes domestically each year,
Australian coffee is distributed evenly among local and international markets, where it enjoys a strong reputation for quality, consistency and flavour.
David Peasley of Peasley Horticultural Services has become an expert in Australian-grown coffee, having researched coffee and production systems in subtropical Australia for more than 20 years.
He said there is something different about Australian coffee, including a complex flavour and natural sweetness.
“We can deliver freshness to the local market that can’t be matched by anything that’s arrived from half-way across the world,” Mr Peasley said.
“We don’t have a problem with the major coffee disease - coffee leaf rust or coffee berry borer disease, so we don’t need to spray our plantations with pesticides like in other parts of the world.
“This means that our coffee contains lower levels of caffeine [which forms part of the plants’ natural defence against pests] and we can produce a delicious cup with complex flavours and natural sweetness.”
The RIRDC, in association with Southern Cross University (SCU), is working to address problems associated with production loss due to mechanised harvesting.
Mr Peasley toured a Columbian research facility and breeding program and visited Brazil to select six varieties that could be grown in Australia and that met the requirements of local growers.
Once an agreement is reached between SCU and the Columbian and Brazilian authorities, the chosen varieties will be grown out in quarantine facilities at SCU.
After passing quarantine requirements, the seedlings will be planted in a field trial in the Northern Rivers region of NSW.
“Columbia is the third largest coffee exporter in the world, employing 60 leading scientists and 5000 agronomists over eight research stations," he said.
"They hold approximately 1200 different varieties of coffee in their collection.
“In a way, it is fortunate that coffee is quite sensitive to variation in climate, latitude and altitude.
"I worked with a set of 10 criteria set by the local growers, including drought and rust resistance, a long production life with high bean quality, and of course, it had to be a semi-dwarf variety compatible with two machine-harvesting.
"These criteria helped me to eliminate a large number of unsuitable varieties very quickly.”
He said initially the negotiations will focus on the sharing of knowledge and research.
"If these varieties prove successful, then we’ll discuss commercial agreements," Mr Peasley said.
"For the moment, the likely trade-off means that the Columbian researchers will use the data from these trials to examine the potential impact of climate change in their own country.”
President of the Australian Subtropical Coffee Association Jan Fadelli said she hopes the new varieties will help to attract more growers to the industry.
“Prospective coffee growers have been advised in the past that in 9-10 years they will probably need to prune, at some cost to their production," Ms Fadelli said.
"Having access to semi-dwarf varieties that do not need regular pruning could be a game-changer for the local industry and bring in new growers.
"We are fortunate to grow our coffee in the favourable Australian sub-tropical climate, which means we can produce a truly exceptional cup.”
And while she is hopeful for the future, she remains realistic about the timeframes involved.
“The results of these trials are still at least five years away, so it’s a shame these trials won’t help our members looking to plant more trees immediately; however we must be able to think long-term, as the Columbians are doing,” she said.