Climate change could soon allow Florida farmers to grow coffee beans, UF scientists say

The Sunshine State has never grown commercial coffee trees before, but that may change sooner than later.

"We are in a climate where it is almost perfect to grow coffee," said University of Florida graduate assistant Emily Pappo.

She said it is only "almost" perfect because Florida winters can get cold enough to be harmful to coffee crops, but global warming is making scientists take a second look. 

Pappo is part of a research movement hoping to bring the caffeinated crop to Florida.

"As we start to experience climate change starting to create more warmer days and maybe less frost events, it might become more possible for the coffee plants to thrive here in the Florida climate," she explained. "That opens up a lot of really great opportunities for coffee production in this part of the United States."

Pappo's team is currently growing the state's first research crop of coffee. Currently, they're keeping an eye on the crop's progress.

"Knowing how coffee’s root system and how the coffee plant itself responds to different climate conditions is going to be really important for knowing how the coffee is going to do here in Florida," she said. 

That's where UF Engineering is helping the agriculture team get a closer look under the ground. They slide small cameras down clear plastic tubes placed in the soil next to coffee trees.

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The cameras take pictures of the roots and the soil, and those pictures help Pappo see how coffee roots handle things like drought or frost. By using new imaging technology, the engineering team will soon be able to provide an even better look.

"This will collect data over hundreds of wavelengths, outside of our visible range," said engineering professor Alina Zare. "Using all that information, we can learn more about the materials and the chemical compositions of the soil and the roots that we are imaging. We can learn more about their interactions and their changes over time."

It's a combined effort to make a massive impact on Florida's agriculture. Planting trees could one day lead to the implementation of processing and roasting in the state as well.

"It would be a huge investment to bring coffee into Florida," Pappo said, "so we have to make sure that our I’s are dotted and our T’s are crossed and we have a good idea of how it’s going to go."