Colombia coffee growers wary of rains, eye H2 target

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s main coffee harvest may produce 6 million 60-kg bags in the second half of 2010 but the intensity of rains will determine if it meets the target, coffee officials from three states said on Tuesday.

The world’s largest producer of high quality Arabica beans saw a dramatic fall in production to three-decade lows last year due to a drought and a tree renovation program, but bean players expect a recovery in 2010 to 10 million bags.

Coffee producers are confident that bean output could hit 6 million bags in the last six months of the year because dry weather between September and April allowed coffee flowers to open resulting in a greater number of berries.

But torrential rains later in this year could make collecting cherries more difficult or prompt mature cherries to drop, said directors of coffee producers in Caldas and Quindio states -- which account for 17.6 percent of total output.

“The hope is that we reach 10 million bags (in 2010) but if there is too much rain it’s possible some beans will drop from the trees but everything is hypothetical,” said Carlos Alberto Gomez, who represents coffee producers for Quindio.

“Strong rains or even hail storms affect coffee plantations. What is important now is that we collect the beans because if it rains too hard pickers do not want to collect.”

Colombia’s rainy seasons occur from March to May and September to November, and the coming season could be severe due to the La Nina weather phenomenon, according to the government’s weather office.

The Andean nation is experiencing higher-than-normal rains as La Nina forms, it said, but the worst of La Nina is due toward the end of the year and the beginning of next year.

In the first six months, Colombia produced 4 million bags and exported 3.

The world’s No. 3 coffee exporter saw output climb to 787,000 sacks in July -- which means Colombia will have to produce more than one million bags per month between August and December to meet its second half target.

Historically, Colombia had an average monthly production in the second half of the year of 595,000 bags last year, 893,000 in 2008, 1.14 million in 2007 and 1.05 million in 2006, according to coffee federation data.


Representatives of coffee growers said that a sunny spell would allow the southern provinces of Narino, Cauca and Huila to have a secondary crop in the last months of the year. The three states account for 21.4 percent of total output.

“The north and the west of Huila had their main production between April and June but they will have a secondary output in the last quarter thanks to strong droughts that allowed coffee trees to flower at the beginning of the year,” said Hector Falla, who oversees growers in the province of Huila.

Growers harvest the main crop mainly from October to December in the central provinces of Antioquia, Caldas, Quindio, Risaralda and North of Valle, and a mid-year crop -- mainly for Cauca, Narino and Huila -- from April to June.

“That is very unusual in the coffee industry to have output throughout the whole country ... Not only the provinces of the Eje Cafetero will be producing but also the southern states of Narino and Cauca will produce,” said Mario Gomez, who represents growers for Caldas province.

“But we have some questions about the weather. We just pray that the excellent output doesn’t get ruined with rains.”

Additional reporting and editing by Jack Kimball