US officials downplayed El Nino fears for Colombia’s coffee crop – saying that dryness caused by the weather pattern could even prove “serendipitous” – as they lifted their production forecast to a 23-year high.
Colombia officials and coffee farmers “remain cautious” over the El Nino, which has a history of bringing drought to the country, and “continue to monitor weather pattern shifts”, the US Department of Agriculture bureau in Bogota said.
However, the “severe drought” forecast by many commentators “did not materialise”, the bureau said, in contrast to a number of recent reports.
And “mild” drought condition could bring benefits in curbing the spread of rust fungus, and enhancing yields.
“Mild drought impacts on coffee production before the April-to-June ‘mitaca’ harvest could be serendipitous, resulting in less leaf growth and more cherries,” the bureau said.
Indeed, the bureau – highlighting “good weather”, and a programme of mass tree replanting since a rust outbreak which started in 2008 – lifted to 13.4m bags its forecast for Colombian coffee output in 2015-16, which began last month.
Besides keeping a marginal year-on-year recovery in output on the cards, a fourth successive season of increase, production at that level would be comfortably above the USDA’s official forecast for the season.
And it would be the biggest output since 1992-93, enhancing Colombia’s credentials as the third-ranked coffee grower, after Brazil and Vietnam, and having rebounded past Indonesia.
“Despite indications that El Niсo drought conditions may worsen in 2016, the negative impact on production could be marginal.”
‘Point of unprofitability’
Indeed, the main threat to Colombian coffee output now, after the mass replanting programme with rust-resistant trees, appeared to be rising wages, which now accounted for a bigger chunk of production costs than the historic 40%.
“The agricultural labour shortage and a higher minimum wage have increased that share to upwards of 60% in 2015,” the bureau said.
Indeed, “rising input costs for field workers”, besides increased pesticide and fertilizer prices and weak coffee values “have effectively squeezed margins to the point of unprofitability for many coffee growers”.
The inability of coffee farmers to afford labour could have yield effects ahead, with task such as crop observation and clearing prematurely-fallen cherries “critical to managing outbreaks” of the borer beetle which represents a major plantation pest.
“Borer infestation levels are less than 5% of planted area, but indications are that farm infestations are reaching 10% in the central and Antioquia region of the Colombia.”
The bureau lifted its forecast for Colombian coffee exports in 2015-16 too, reflecting the raised production estimate, with shipments now pegged at 12.23m bags, above the official USDA figure.
However, it would represent a decline from the 12.57m bags exported last season – a 21-year high.
The bureau attributed the decline to weaker carryover stocks coming into the season, with inventories run down by the strong 2014-15 performance.
The US is the major destination for Colombian coffee exports, with a market share of some 40%, while the European Union, Japan and Canada also major buyers.
(Source – http://www.agrimoney.com/news/colombia-coffee-crop-to-hit-23-year-high-despite-el-nino–9018.html)