Coup on the Horizon

Briggs Walters was still feeling jet lagged, as he stood partially covered by his umbrella, and partially covered by the coffee tree he was squatting under, to get a better look at the beans that weren’t growing properly. The farmer next to him, though exuberant, clearly didn’t fully understand why Briggs had flown all this way from Chicago, and seemed to think Briggs was interested in investing in his plantation. The translator was still hard to read and her accent was thicker than Briggs could understand, and he had to really focus to understand what she was saying.

“He say these beans no good. But next season plantation will be better. He guarantee. This season have freak rain, 140% increase. Lots of flooding, and cause fungus. Fungus bad. Kill off beans.” She said, standing behind Briggs, under her own umbrella, wearing flip flops in the rain, and still looking much drier than Briggs did. “See fungus here.” She pointed to a cluster of beans, they had some discoloring and looked like they had pigeon poop on them.

“Ask him how much of the harvest he expects to get from this. How much can he salvage.” Briggs said.

“Salvage?… Oh like keep?” She asked, Briggs nodded awkwardly, as he stood back up to take in the whole plantation once again. Row upon row of coffee trees. If it weren’t for the rain this trip would almost be a vacation. He had been invited later to try some in house roasted coffee, grown here on the plantation. Briggs rubbed the roof of his mouth with his tongue thinking about the promise of delicious fresh roasted coffee straight off the tree. Behind him he could hear the translator ask a question, then repeat it again, she sounded like she didn’t quite get it the first time.

“He say, only 1800kg, 30 bags.”

Briggs didn’t turn to look at her, but he suddenly felt like a stone was pressing hard on the base of his stomach. That didn’t sound like much. “How many tons would he expect to harvest with a field this size normally?”

Glancing over he could see her lean down to the farmer, who was still inspecting his lost product. She asked him the question and he looked up at Briggs, smiled and then gave his answer exuberantly, and then went on before she stopped him and turned to Briggs. “Normally more than 10 times that, at least 300 bags.” The man started talking again, tugging on the translator’s tank top, pointing at Briggs, “He says hes planning on expanding next year, the neighboring farm was experimenting with some kind of sustainability thing – “ switching back to portugese, she asked him something, he looked at her and then Briggs, and then answered reluctantly. “I asked him why he’s expanding if so much of his crops are going to be lost this year. He said the he’s confident he’ll still make money. God is on his side. And so is the free market.” She shrugged as she said this, but Briggs got it.

Depending on how he sold his coffee, he could still do handsomely. Reports weren’t good all over this region, and in countries like Vietnam there had bee record rainfall, along with record low temperatures, which spelled disaster for the Coffee market. It sounded like this plantation owner hadn’t pledged a future on his beans, a smart move, given what happened, and how volatile the environment has been the last few years. Briggs shook his head thinking about the impact of such a bad harvest would have on the cost of coffee in Chicago, but how much money he had stood to make, given he had been following the spread of this new fungus in Brazil long before anyone else had caught wind of it. It was slow spreading and needed a lot more moisture than coffee trees should normally be getting, but the precipitation in Brazil had been constant for months before the growing season started. This was a windfall, at least it would be for the traders that had contracts for other plantations, this one would be making a lot of money, while many would go under, given they would have to sell their abysmal harvests at a pre agreed upon price. Except it wasn’t going to be a windfall, and that was why Briggs was in Brazil. He wanted to see for himself what the hell was going on.

One thing was for sure, the price for Coffee futures should be going up, not staying low all year. This was worth a trip to the Southern Hemisphere, from a taxi to a train to a bus to a petty cab, and finally here, to the only coffee plantation owner that was interested in letting him tour the facility and ask all of his weird questions. And now Briggs was pretty certain he understood why, as the elderly plantation owner continued to talk, looking at him and gesturing to the main house, where the aroma of freshly ground and brewed coffee was emanating. Business. Its always business.