Fungus brewing among coffee growers - CBS 3 Springfield - WSHM

Fungus brewing among coffee growers

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COLLEGE STATION, TX (WFSB) -

A fungus problem has been brewing among some of the best coffee bean growers in the world. Experts said coffee drinkers shouldn't percolate just yet, however, it could soon hit them in the wallet.

It's called "Coffee Rust" and it is wreaking havoc on Arabica beans in Latin America and the Caribbean. Monday, The U.S. government said it was stepping in to help.

"In its worst form, it actually destroys the trees and prevents future years from having agricultural output on that crop," said Rajiv Shah, chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The fungus hit hardest in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica. Experts predicted that if it was not under control in coming years, it could wipe out 15 to 40 percent of the crop.

They said that could impact a lot of families.

"Millions of kids would go hungry," said Shah. "Economies throughout the region would face significant strife and the loss of basic economic activity that supports 20 to 30 percent of their populations."

Many of the beans were grown on small farms by farmers who lack special training and cannot afford fungicides. Coffee Rust has already caused a billion dollars in damage.

Chain stores like Starbucks and Kureig Green Mountain Coffee said they've stocked up on supplies to avoid driving up prices.

Owners at small, locally owned shops such as the Down to Earth coffee house in Glastonbury said they are paying close attention because it could also impact their bottom line.

"I don't know if our prices are going to go up, but we are concerned," said Debbie Kelly, of Down to Earth Coffee House.

Kelly said if it comes down to it, they plan to focus on selling coffee grown in areas other than South America or on tea, anything to keep their customers.

Some customers told Eyewitness News they'd pay up if they had to. 

"It's kind of a morning necessity to get you going," said one customer named Kate.

Other customers said they were not so sure about paying the rising coffee prices.

"If it goes up a few cents that's one thing," said Ann Bernardi, who is a coffee drinker. "If it goes up, $5, $6 or $8 that could be another."

The U.S. government was set to announce a $5 million partnership with Texas A&M's World Coffee Research Center in hopes of finding a solution to the problem.

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