Heavy rains, COVID-19 challenge Colombian coffee growers -federation

BOGOTA, March 25 (Reuters) - Keeping up production and harvesting despite heavy rains are top challenges for coffee-growers in Colombia this year, the coffee federation said on Thursday, adding that producers are also working to maintain their income and avoid COVID-19 infections.

Colombia, the world’s top producer of washed arabica, reached an output of 13.9 million 60-kg bags of coffee last year, an annual fall of 6%.

“We will have to live with the challenge of COVID-19, try to manage it, continue our prevention campaign, support vaccination plans, that is the huge challenge we will have,” federation president Roberto Velez said during a virtual press conference.

Colombia has administered 1.38 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far and recorded 2.35 million cases and more than 62,000 deaths.

“The second challenge has to do with the quantities produced, given we have had weather that is not favorable to coffee production,” Velez said, referring to heavy rains in recent weeks.

Guaranteeing profit for coffee-growers is also a challenge, Velez said. The New York market price has been about $1.30 per lb of coffee this year amid a weak Colombian peso, while a quality premium has hovered between 45 and 50 cents per lb.

A proposed tax reform set to go to Congress next month would be worrying if it raises duties on fertilizers, Velez said.

“Taxes on fertilizers would be very serious for the agricultural sector, not just the coffee sector.”

The federation predicts farmers will harvest about 6 million bags in the first half of this year and 14 million during all of 2021.

About 550,000 Colombian families make their living growing coffee. The Andean country is the third-largest coffee producer overall after Brazil and Vietnam. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Marguerita Choy)