World Coffee Research launching check-off program

Funds will support genetic improvement, disease treatment and prevention, more

COLLEGE STATION — World Coffee Research has announced the establishment of a check-off fund which will enable coffee roasters worldwide to contribute to the organization’s pivotal work on genetics, disease treatment and prevention, variety trials and other efforts, program officials said.

World Coffee Research has established a check-off initiative so those involved in the specialty coffee industry can contribute toward research to ensure future quality coffee supplies. (Photo courtesy of Texas A&M AgriLife Research)

World Coffee Research has established a check-off program so specialty coffee wholesalers and retailers can contribute to research to help ensure future quality coffee supplies. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo)

World Coffee Research is a non-profit, collaborative research and development program of the global coffee industry to grow, protect and enhance supplies of quality coffee while improving the livelihoods of the families who produce it. The program is managed by the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, part of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, the Texas A&M University System.

Roasters interested in fundraising efforts to support World Coffee Research are now invited to sign on to the check-off program through participating importing companies, they said.

“Importers play a critical role in facilitating the check-off program, but can also choose to participate by matching contributions,” said World Coffee Research executive director Dr. Timothy Schilling. “In this manner, all supply chain members can work toward a more sustainable supply of quality coffee.”

By committing a half-penny-per-pound check-off contribution to any contract agreed to through the fund, coffee wholesalers and retailers of any size can provide much-needed financial backing to the organization’s work in the critical areas of research, he said.

“The initiative also will support coffee sensory and climate-change programs that stand to have great impact on the present and future of high quality coffee,” Schilling said.

World Coffee Research’s core program is about improving the volume of coffee produced as well as the quality of those supplies of coffee, mainly through genetic improvement and variety development, germplasm enhancement, and other aspects of research, he noted.

“For example, this research applies directly to rust interventions and treatment in Central America,” Schilling said.

He said the inspiration for the check-off fund comes from long-standing financial support systems utilized by other goods.

“Many commodities in the U.S. have a check-off fund,” he says. “They utilize that fund on research for diseases or for promotion. The ‘Got Milk?’ campaign by the dairy industry was paid for with check-off funds.”

Schilling said the half-penny levy would be applied to individual itemized invoices the importing company submits to the roasting partner.

World Coffee Research efforts (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

World Coffee Research efforts include genetic improvement, disease treatment and prevention, and variety development and trials. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo)

The cumulative, incremental contribution will seem nominal to the roasting company, he noted.

“The funds are collected, managed, invoiced and delivered to WCR by the importing company once or twice annually, and are eligible as cost of doing business tax write-offs for participating companies.”

Shawn Hamilton, the green buyer for Sacramento’s Java City, who also serves as World Coffee Research treasurer, said now is the time for roasters of all sizes to pitch in and back the organization’s work.

“I think if anybody knows the (specialty) coffee business well enough, they know that the 10- to 20-year future of the coffee that we buy does not look good,” Hamilton said.  ”Between land-use pressures, (the) pressure to switch out of coffee, climate change… there are going to be significant changes.”

“How do we grow higher quality coffee at lower altitudes, for instance?” he asked. “Drought resistance? Rust resistance? Right now, there are no answers to those questions.”

Hamilton said a “cautiously optimistic” amount for how much it would take to help World Coffee Research sustain and increase its work would be $3 million to $3.5 million a year.

“If we got that much, we would be in good shape, and might even draw attention from government agencies or large private backers, possibly even a large organization that would provide matching funds. If we could do that, we would be able to do a lot of research,” he said.

Hamilton said the half-cent-per-pound buy-in is minimal for participating roasters and comes with benefits both to individual companies and the specialty coffee industry as a whole.

“When you donate, you become a member of the WCR, which includes receipt of the institute’s annual progress and project report, invitation to its yearly research summit, prominent thanks on our website and shared use of the WCR’s marketing resources,” he said. “Dr. Schilling also believes there is great marketing potential for coffee roasters in their packaging of check-off coffees noting that their business supports coffee research.”

For more information about participating in the World Coffee Research check-off program, visit www.worldcoffeeresearch.org .

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