Drought to send Brazil's arabica coffee production to 12-year low
Commodities 21 Jan 2021 by Mike Verdin
Brazil’s arabica coffee harvest, having set a record high in 2020, will plunge to a 12-year low this year, as drought which curtailed flowering and “burned” leaves exacerbates a cyclical downturn.
Conab, the official Brazilian agriculture bureau, in its first forecast for coffee output in the world’s top producing country, pegged the arabica harvest at 29.72m-32.99m bags, well below last year’s record 48.77m-bag result.
While Brazil’s arabica output was expected to decline in 2021 - an off-year in its cycle of alternate larger and smaller crops – the drop expected this year would be the largest on data going back to 2003.
Indeed, at 31.35m bags at the mid-point of Conab’s forecast production range, the harvest would be the weakest harvest since 2009.
The extent of the decline reflects what Conab reported as the “drought experienced in the second half of 2020 in Minas Gerais”, Brazil’s major arabica-growing state, where output was seen falling particularly markedly, by 40% at the midpoint of the range of output estimates.
On top of the usual biennial effect, which sees trees sapped by a strong harvest one year limit their output the next, “the lower levels of, and irregular, rainfall and high average temperatures that prevailed between April and November caused accentuated defoliation after the last harvest”.
The dryness - besides resulting in a weaker-than-expected blossom count on trees during the flowering period, typically around September to November – hampered take-up of inputs such as fertilizers, which require water to get into trees’ root systems.
In the centre-south area of Minas Gerais, the state’s biggest coffee-growing region, Conab underlined that the drought also prompted trees to abort fruitlets, and caused “the burning of leaves and flowers” and branch dieback.
The drought has cut arabica output potential too, particularly in Minas Gerais, by encouraging plantations to hard prune their tress, a process also known as “skeletisation”, which takes them out of the running for the immediate harvest, but stimulates higher yields in the next.
“The severe drought that hit the coffee plantations encouraged producers to take advantage of the year of negative bienniality and allocate a larger area of plantations for treatments” such as skeletisation, Conab said.
Brazil’s arabica area for the 2021 harvest will fall by 134,000 hectares year on year to 1.38m hectares – the lowest since at least 2000.
However, Conab outlined a better outlook for the country’s robusta coffee harvest this year, seen at worst ending up in line with last year’s 14.31m-bag harvest, and potentially soaring 16.0% to 16.60m bags.
Even at 15.37m bags, the midpoint of the output forecast range, the harvest would exceed the current record of 15.01m bags produced in 2019.
In the top robusta-growing state of Espirito Santo “climatic conditions have, in general, been favourable up to now, with rainfall levels as expected”, Conab said.
The bureau pegged Brazil’s total coffee output this year at 43.85m-49.59m bags, a fall of 21-31% year on year.
At 46.72m bags, the midpoint of the forecast range, this would be the weakest harvest in four years.
Conab’s overall forecast factored in an area loss of 6.8%, and yield decline of 15.7-25.4%.
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