With drought causing plants to shed leaves, coffee trees in world top grower Brazil will fail to reach their full productive potential in the 2011 harvest, agronomists told Reuters on Tuesday.
Leaves produce the energy the trees need to form the coffee fruit, but agronomists said the more foliage they lose, the less they will be able to produce. And, they warned, the rains must come soon to avoid significant losses to the crop.
“The plant can (abort) some of its production because of insufficient photosynthesis and an imbalance in the ratio of leaves to fruit,” said agronomist Emerson Tinico of the Cooparaiso cooperative in Minas Gerais, the Latin American country’s top coffee state.
“There are leaves falling from the trees and this will affect production,” he said. But, he cautioned, it was too soon to predict a smaller-than-usual harvest at this early stage if less-afflicted regions manage to compensate.
Coffee futures shot up to their highest in 13-1/4 years in New York last week, due to concerns that dry weather could persist well into the usual flowering period, which spans late September to December since the blossoms appear in waves.
The December arabica futures contract closed Tuesday at $1.953 per lb, up 6.15 cents or 3.25 percent.
Agronomists at cooperatives in coffee regions from near northern Sao Paulo to robusta-growing Espirito Santo said they were worried the drought could deal a blow to the crop if the rains, which usually return in late September, did not arrive soon.
“There are plants losing leaves and with a burnt appearance. It is a generalized problem,” agronomist Joaquim Goulart of the world’s largest coffee cooperative, Cooxupe, told Reuters.
He said even if rains returned now, the trees would not make a full recovery because they had gone months without rain.
“With no moisture reserves in the soil, the plants are feeling the effects,” he said.
NO RAIN FORECAST
Data from weather forecaster Somar shows long strings of zeros for the rain forecast in Brazil’s coffee zones and there is still no sign of notable showers in sight apart from a sprinkle in two areas that would have little or no impact.
“The latest forecasting models still show another cold front between the 22nd and 25th but they don’t indicate significant rainfall in the coffee areas,” Somar said in a coffee weather bulletin on Tuesday.
Whatever the weather, the next harvest in the world’s top coffee grower is already certain to be smaller than this year’s 47.2 million 60-kg bag crop, due to a cyclical dip in output every other year. The last small crop, in 2009 for example, produced 39.4 million 60-kg bags.
Faring better are farms in northern Espirito Santo, the main robusta growing state, which have been protected by irrigation during the flowering phase. Flowering is already now well advanced as it occurs weeks earlier than for arabica.
But if the La Nina weather anomaly, which has formed and is behind the dry conditions in the region, manages to keeps rain at bay for long enough, Espirito Santo too will eventually suffer.
“Producers are irrigating constantly and this is causing the ponds to dry up. If it doesn’t rain by November when the beans are filling out, they will be very small,” said technician Delson Schramm of the Cooabriel cooperative.
“Even with irrigation the plants don’t develop as well as with rain,” he said.