Photo essay: Demand-led breeding—a learning journey

Connecting coffee scientists with roasters and breeders of other crops

In April, World Coffee Research (WCR) hosted coffee breeders and other partners from Kenya, Costa Rica, Honduras, and the Philippines for a whirlwind learning journey across Oregon and Washington to explore how other crops, including the blueberry and hazelnut industry, organize their breeding programs. The tour also included opportunities to hear from coffee roasting companies about how they source coffees from around the world, develop new products, and work to control quality.

WCR works to strengthen the coffee breeding research community by sharing technical information and best practices developed in other crops. This includes shifting to demand-led breeding approaches that incorporate both farmer and roaster needs.

The tour followed the 2023 Specialty Coffee Association Expo, which took place in Portland, Oregon, and included visits to Fall Creek Blueberries outside Eugene, Oregon; the Oregon State University Hazelnut Breeding Program in Corvallis, Oregon; Cameron Winery in Dundee, Oregon; and three coffee roasteries: Dancing Goats Coffee in Olympia, Washington; Fulcrum Coffee and Starbucks in Seattle, Washington.

Participants included:

Elijah Gichuru, KALRO (Kenya)
James Gimase, KALRO (Kenya)
Carlos Acuna, ICAFE (Costa Rica)
TJ Ryan, ACDI/VOCA PhilCAFE Project (Philippines)
Thelonious Trimmell, ACDI/VOCA (Portland)
Ron Yu, PhilCAFE Project (Philippines)
Gilda B. Palima, PhilCAFE Project (Philippines)
Anatista Perez, PhilCAFE Project (Philippines)
Felicitas B. Pantoja, PhilCAFE Project (Philippines)
Lendilou F. Loon, PhilCAFE Project (Philippines)
Jeannelle Ellson, PhilCAFE Project (Philippines)
Mel Garcia, PhilCAFE Project (Philippines)
Juan Rafael López Dubom, ACDI/VOCA Farms Program (Honduras)
Hanna Neuschwander, World Coffee Research (USA)
Kraig Kraft, World Coffee Research (USA)
Tania Humphrey, World Coffee Research (Canada)
Catherine Maina, World Coffee Research (Kenya)

Throughout the trip, WCR's Director of Communications and Strategy Hanna Neuschwander, was able to capture the group's experience.

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The first stop on the learning journey was Fall Creek, one of the world’s leading blueberry breeding and nursery companies, with operations in the U.S., Mexico, Peru, Spain, The Netherlands, South Africa, and Chile. The company serves the world’s blueberry growers and supports the blueberry industry through the delivery of the high-performing genetics and plants. All of the plants they develop and sell to growers are propagated in tissue-culture labs to ensure maximum genetic performance. This is one of the many greenhouse facilities at Fall Creek’s Oregon nursery.

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Dr. Paul Sandefur, Breeding Manager at Fall Creek shows off a row of Duke blueberries at their breeding plot. Growers and retailers are invited to visit the plot to see and taste new varieties under development.

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Blueberry flowers blooming on-site at Fall Creek Farm & Nursery.

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Blueberry and coffee breeders unite! Pictured from the left: Matt Kramer, former head of product development and commercialization at Fall Creek; Jordy McCornack, Assistant Breeder at Fall Creek; Tania Humphrey, director of R&D at World Coffee Research; Carlos Luis Acuña Matamoros, coffee breeder at ICAFE in Costa Rica; James Gimase, coffee breeder at KALRO in Kenya; Dr. Paul Sandefur, Breeding Manager at Fall Creek.

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Historic hazelnut varieties developed by the Oregon State Hazelnut Breeding Program. The program focuses on developing new cultivars for Oregon's growing hazelnut industry, with emphasis on resistance to eastern filbert blight and suitability for the kernel market. The program is funded by Oregon’s hazelnut growers, which supply 99% of the U.S. supply of hazelnuts.

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Participants in the learning journey gathered at the top of a Pinot Noir field on a hill overlooking Oregon’s verdant Willamette Valley, a rich agricultural zone where over 200 crops are produced.

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Winemaker Tom Sivilli of Cameron Winery pours a Chardonnay at the Clos Electric Vinyard. Clos Electric, like many vineyards in Oregon’s famed Dundee Hills AVA, is a small-scale vineyard of 7 acres, growing pinot noir, nebbiolo, and chardonnay. It is farmed organically without irrigation. Insect pests are controlled primarily by predatory insects with integrated cover crops.

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Kenyan visitors enjoy walking the roasting room floor at Dancing Goats Coffee. Green coffee buyer Bob Benke talked with participants about how Dancing Goats makes purchasing decisions and the factors that influence which coffees he buys. Pictured from the left: Dr. Elijah Gichuru, KALRO; Catherine Maina, WCR; James Gimase, KALRO.

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Learning journey participants spend an entire day at the Starbucks headquarters office in Seattle. The day began with a tasting and discussion with Starbucks’ product development and quality control team, which shared perspectives on their approach to sourcing coffees, ensuring consistent quality for consumers, and developing new blends and other products. This kind of exchange between researchers and buyers is essential for enhancing the responsiveness of breeding programs to user needs.

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Slurping coffees at the Starbucks headquarters. Visitors had the opportunity to taste some of the most important base coffees from different parts of the world used in different coffee blends, including Guatemala, Colombia, Kenya, and Indonesia. Pictured: Joji Pantoja of Coffee for Peace Inc, and Elijah Gichuru, KALRO.

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Dr. Elijah Gichuru, KALRO and Dr. Kraig Kraft, WCR cupping with the Starbucks quality team.


The learning journey ended with a visit to the Starbucks’ Kent Roasting Plant, which is one of seven roasteries worldwide. The Kent plant roasts Starbucks coffee, blends TeavanaTM/MC tea, and manufactures Starbucks VIA® Instant coffee line. Built in 1992, Kent is the oldest plant in the company and just 13 miles away from the Starbucks headquarters.