By Jeffrey T. Lewis
(Dow Jones) -- SÃO PAULO--Brazil's state of Minas Gerais, the country's most important coffee producer, will lose at least 25% of its 2022 arabica coffee crop after the coldest weather in more than 25 years slammed many areas of the state, according to José Marcos Magalhães, president of the Minasul coffee cooperative.
Brazil normally produces more than one-third of the world's arabica coffee, the most popular variety of bean, and Minas Gerais grows about two-thirds of Brazil's production. But the worst cold spell since 1994 in important coffee-growing regions has already damaged many plants, and more cold weather later this week and in August could make things worse.
"That will mean a significant loss in production next year," Mr. Magalhães said. "We think we're already going to lose 25% of the crop in Minas Gerais, and it could get worse depending on the weather in the next few weeks."
The 2021 harvest hasn't finished yet, but the cold weather will have little impact on it because the plants' leaves protect the small fruits, known as cherries, that produce the coffee beans. The impact will be much worse for 2022 because coffee plants have a two-year growth cycle in which the branches that grow one year produce the cherries the following year.
Temperatures in some areas near the Minasul cooperative fell to as low as -10 degrees celsius, and damage to coffee plants starts at -2 degrees, Mr. Magalhães said. Temperatures were even lower in other coffee-producing states such as São Paulo and Paraná, and their losses will be bigger than in Minas Gerais, he said.
A drought last year and this year had already hurt the development of coffee plants, and cut the size of both this year's and next year's arabica crops, and it's likely that Brazil won't be able to produce enough coffee in 2022 to keep up with demand, Mr. Magalhães said.
"It's early to say, but it's looking like we're going to have problems supplying the world in 2022," he said.
Mr. Magalhães said that Brazil will nevertheless meet all its contractual supply obligations, partly by just agreeing to sell less. The Minasul cooperative's members would normally have sold about 30% of the expected supply for the following year by this time, but because of concerns about the impact of the drought, less than 20% has been sold so far this year, he said.
The impact of the cold weather will extend beyond next year, Mr. Magalhães said. Many young plants that would have begun to produce coffee in 2023 were killed or damaged by the low temperatures, and because of the time it takes for a coffee tree to start growing usable beans, their output for 2023 can't be replaced by planting more, he said
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