USDA-ARS Joins WCR Global Coffee Breeding Network, Adds Access to New Germplasm

USDA-ARS Joins WCR Global Coffee Breeding Network, Adds Access to New Germplasm

March 30 - 2023

Coffee Geography Magazine

USDA's Agricultural Research Service has joined Innovea Global Coffee Breeding Network coordinated by World Coffee Research (WCR), which will offer the Agency broader opportunities to develop more climate resilient coffee varieties with resistance to pests and diseases. 

Kona coffee, one of Hawaii's most legendary and valuable agricultural crops, has come under increasing threats from new diseases and pests, especially since 2020 when coffee leaf rust race XXIV was found on Maui. Other threats include the coffee berry borer and root knot nematodes that are already in Hawaii and those that could be in the offing such as coffee berry disease, coffee wilt disease, leaf miner or new races of coffee leaf rust. 

ARS' Daniel K. Inouye U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center (PBARC) has a strong program to develop ways for Hawaii's coffee growers to deal with these issues either by changing management protocols or by breeding varieties that have better genetic resistance.

"Within our existing germplasm collection, we don't have enough genetic diversity to develop all of these new coffee traits quickly," said PBARC Center Director Marisa Wall. "Now, by joining Innovea, we'll have a partnership with coffee growing countries around the world that will expand our ability to add pest and disease resistance and greater climate resilience to the coffee crop and supporting U.S. growers. And it will aid coffee production around the world." 

"Participating in Innovea also will help us prepare for future threats. We will be receiving access to more than 300 samples or evaluations of coffee in diverse growing regions not currently in our research collection," she added. 

Research and expertise contributed by ARS scientists to the global network also will end up bolstering the U.S. coffee industry because coffee companies rely on stable supplies of coffee from around the world. The coffee industry contributes $225 billion annually to the U.S. economy and supports 1.6 million American jobs. 

The Innovea network's goal is to bring together collaborating countries to transform coffee breeding and accelerate the pace of genetic improvement to the crop's yield, quality, climate resilience, and resistance to pests and diseases. Nine countries have joined the network so far, including Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, Rwanda, Uganda and now ARS in the United States. 

Innovea is sponsored by the more than 200 coffee companies worldwide that comprise WCR's membership base.

"By funding Innovea, leading coffee companies in the United States and beyond have united to drive agricultural solutions to urgently secure a diverse and sustainable supply of coffee today and for generations to come," WCR Chief Executive Officer Jennifer "Vern" Long. 

Suzanne Shriner, administrator of the Synergistic Hawaii Agriculture Council (SHAC), a key stakeholder for coffee in Hawaii, said, "Hawaii growers have hopes of great benefits from this research. Coffee leaf rust has devastated our Kona Typica variety, causing extensive crop loss and tree death. New varieties through Innovea will help our growers recover from invasive pests and disease and ensure a path forward for Hawaiian coffee." 

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency.