October 23, 2014

Agriculture

Java Man

A Canadian hopes to perk up the area's agriculture sector.

Pat Dunnigan | 8/1/2005
For now, the nine-acre patch under power lines is used only occasionally -- as a garbage dump. But to J.C. Nadeau, it's the future site of Florida's first working coffee plantation. Nadeau, a 60-year-old transplant from Quebec whose other entrepreneurial efforts have included a screen enclosure business and a precious-metals refinery, says he got the idea shortly after retiring to south Florida. He was drinking a lot of coffee and suffering from heartburn as a result. The alchemist in him wondered whether there was some way to produce a less acidic coffee plant in Florida's alkaline soil.

"A lot of people say coffee grows only in the mountains," Nadeau says. He set out to prove them wrong. Beginning with a handful of backyard plots, a special fertilizer and an irrigation system designed to keep the roots from staying wet too long, Nadeau began his experiment. The trees did well. He contracted with a Colombian coffee plantation to begin growing starter plants for him. He began selling coffee from a small kiosk in Davie, where the beans are roasted on the spot.

By late June, he had the first 100 of what he says will eventually be 5,000 to 6,000 trees in the ground on a plot the town of Davie has offered him in a low-cost, 10-year lease. The trees are imported from Colombia but grown to his specifications in soil that has been neutralized to a pH of between 6.5 and 7. By November, he expects to have his first small crop of Florida-grown arabica beans, most of which he will use to seed next year's crop. Eventually, he hopes to produce as much as 15,000 pounds a year to be sold through a chain of kiosks and coffee shops.

It's an enterprise that has piqued the interest of agricultural officials, some who have reservations about the ability of coffee plants to withstand the state's occasional hard freezes and not-so-occasional humidity.

Carlos Balerdi, a commercial tropical fruit crops agent with the Unversity of Florida and Miami-Dade County's consumer services department, says Nadeau will also face high labor costs associated with coffee. "It's an extremely difficult crop to pick," Balerdi says. "The berries are very, very small and don't ripen all at the same time."

But Nadeau has his fans. Broward Farm Bureau President Fred Segal believes Nadeau's idea could be the perfect antidote to the area's agricultural difficulties. "It could very well come at an ideal time in south Florida, where we've been losing our citrus trees to canker," he says.

Ken Cohen, Davie's assistant town administrator, says the idea holds great appeal. A lucrative crop like coffee could bring commercial success for small farmers, perhaps giving the town a new hedge against further development. "This could rejuvenate it, something like this," Cohen says.

Tags: Southeast, Agriculture

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