Rains due to drench Brazil coffee, sugar cane harvests

SAO PAULO Tue Jul 22, 2014 4:42pm EDT

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SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Harvest of the world's biggest coffee and sugar cane crops may be stalled by the four to five days of rain that are in store for southeast Brazil starting Thursday, forecasters said on Tuesday.

Brazil is in the midst of its dry period, which starts in May and runs into September and coincides with the peak harvest periods for sugar cane and coffee in the region.

The moisture will help Brazil's coffee trees recover from the stress wrought by a drought earlier this year, but it will hurt the quality of the coffee that is now being harvested. Rain during coffee harvest will infuse a bitter taste to beans and lower their quality and price.

Roughly two thirds of the coffee crop has been harvested under excellent conditions but the tail end of harvest is still hanging on trees and is susceptible to the rain.

The 5 to 15 millimeters a day that local meteorologist Somar forecasts would more than surpass the monthly averages for Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais, the main sugar and coffee states. The region normally averages 20 millimeters for the entire month of July.

Sugar and ethanol mills stop harvesting altogether until rains pass, as fields get too muddy for heavy harvesters to enter them and the quality of the cane declines. The moisture will be a relief for cane developing for harvest next year, however.

"It begins on Thursday and runs through Monday. It will paralyze the cane and coffee harvests and even the winter corn harvest in the center-west," said Somar's Marcio Costodio.

In addition to stalling the harvest, the rains are likely to slow loading of bulk commodities at the southeastern ports of Santos and Paranagua, from which much of the country's sugar, grains and coffee sets sail for world markets.

(Reporting by Roberto Samora; Writing by Reese Ewing; Editing by Peter Galloway)

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