Specialty coffee production is a new crop alternative in mild-winter areas of California

The Issue

Farm operators in California are often faced with limited market alternatives for traditional fruit and vegetable crops because of chronic oversupply and low prices. The development of promising new crops is one way to expand the range of options available to California farmers who want to increase the diversity of crops they grow and improve farm profitability. Specialty coffee production and marketing is a new crop enterprise alternative for frost-free areas of central and southern California. Coffee is being successfully produced, both in open-field solid plantings and as an intercrop within established avocado orchards. Coffee from California farms has now been successfully produced, processed, and commercially marketed over five successive seasons.

What Has ANR Done?

A familiarity with coffee farms in Central America and Hawaii led UC Small Farms and Specialty Crops farm advisor Mark Gaskell in 2002 to import coffee seed for three coffee varieties and establish field trials with grower Jay Ruskey of Goodland Organics in Goleta (http://goodlandorganics.com). Gaskell and Ruskey conducted a multi-year, on-farm research and development program with the goal of producing a profitable, high-quality, specialty coffee. They established coffee plantings and evaluated alternative cultural practices to produce a consistent crop. In 2005 they added a small-volume coffee depulper, and then later modified it to handle the increasing volumes of coffee being produced. With the initial elements of coffee production and processing beginning to take shape, Gaskell and Ruskey evaluated cupping quality of the coffee and different marketing options via farmer’s market, farm tours, and internet sales. These efforts led to a slow, steady increase in the planting area and the range of varieties, followed by successful sales of processed coffee beginning in 2010. Expanded field production, processing, and cupping quality evaluations are continuing in 2015.

The Payoff

Specialty coffee is now a viable crop enterprise for frost-free areas of central and southern California

Specialty coffee production and marketing offers a promising new crop alternative for several mild-winter counties in California. Field and processing trials for 15 distinct coffee varieties are underway to further develop new production and marketing options. Certified cupping evaluations indicate that California-grown coffee has flavor profiles consistent with the highest grades of specialty coffee currently in the marketplace. Coffee is now being harvested on three farms in southern Santa Barbara County, and market demand is outpacing supply. New plantings include open-field, homogeneous plantings as well as coffee interplanted in alternate rows of established avocado orchards. Additional new commercial plantings have expanded up and down the California coast from Cambria to Carlsbad and additional commercial plantings are planned for 2015.

Clientele Testimonial

"By adding coffee to my avocado production, I have improved per-acre returns over growing avocados alone. California coffee is timed really well with the craft food industry, where people are willing to pay for quality, local products like coffee." - Jay Ruskey, Good Land Organics & California Grown Coffee


Supporting Unit: San Luis Obispo County

UC Cooperative Extension
Mark Gaskell, (805) 781-5940, mlgaskell@ucanr.edu