Local farmers see coffee as next cash crop in San Diego

Several farms testing out coffee plants
Posted at 8:20 AM, Oct 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-30 11:20:22-04

RANCHO SANTA FE (KGTV): As the costs to grow avocado and citrus keep rising, farmers in San Diego are trying a new crop to put a jolt in their business: coffee.

"We’re excited about the possibilities," says Chuck Badger, who runs R.E. Badger and Sons. He's planted about 5,000 coffee plants across several farms that his business manages.

"The plants are very happy. They’ve got a lot of cherries on them. So we’re super excited for this summer to pick it."

Badger says he heard about the possibilities of coffee from growers in Ventura County. San Diego's coastal climate and soil are similar to other coffee producing regions.

The timing couldn't be better. In addition to dealing with the lingering drought, many farmers are getting frustrated with the rising production costs of avocado and citrus trees. They're looking for ways to diversify their crops.

Badger says the upfront costs of coffee are a little higher, but the profit margins can be much better. He told 10News that coffee needs about 900 trees planted per acre, while citrus uses only 150.

But, if the coffee grades out as a "premium" brand, farmers could net as much as $50,000 per acre. Citrus and avocado trees bring in anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 an acre, depending on the yield and other market factors.

Leaders with the San Diego County Farm Bureau are excited about the potential as well, but caution that coffee is still in an "experimental" phase in the area.

"Nobody's all in at this point," says Executive Director Eric Larson. He points out that San Diego has around 50,000 acres of total farmland. Larson guesses that coffee makes up less than 20 total acres right now.

"Folks are seeing if it’s going to work here before they make a future decision to be all in," says Larson

He says it could be a good crop to plant in conjunction with other established crops, doubling up acreage to increase profits.

Badger thinks San Diego could become coffee country, in the same way Napa is known for wine.

"We want to model it after the whole wine growing template, where people are asking for certain varietals, certain regions, organic," he says. "So those coffee snobs become like those wine snobs and will pay for premium coffee."

Badger won't be able to harvest any of his beans until next summer. He's looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

"If you look at what the world wants and what people are spending money on, I think it will be a good thing."