Coffee production in the now completed 2020-21 harvest cycle in Colombia, the world’s third largest coffee growing nation and largest producer of mild washed arabica beans, and it ended lower with total output expected at about 13 million 60-kilogram bags. This comes after weather problems cut yields shorter than expected, exporters and industry officials in Colombia said.
This compares to total production in the previous 2019-20 cycle where Colombian coffee producers registered 14.1 million bags. The coffee year in Colombia follows the international cycle which runs from Oct. 1 – Sept. 30. The harvest was initially pegged to come in slightly below the level seen a year ago and similar to the harvest of 13.866 million bags in the 2018-19 cycle. Even after the weather phenomenon known as La Niña started causing havoc for growers between June and July the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, also known as Fedecafe, said production could still reach 13.5 million bags.
“The final production figures are very disappointing but after the many weather problems reported in the last few months when La Niña hit the southern regions in particular, it’s not that much of a surprise at this point,” a trader with an exporter in Bogota told STiR coffee and tea. Adding that the smaller Colombian harvest will raise by at least 1.0 million bags the shortfall to a growing global deficit, he said the outlook for the new 2021-22 harvest cycle in Colombia, which officially started on Oct. 1, also will be cut short by the irregular weather caused by the growing negative impact of climate change across the Colombian coffee areas.
Roberto Velez, chief operating officer of Fedecafe, said last August the official forecast was cut for the 2020-21 harvest to 13-13.5 million bags as a direct impact of the return of La Niña to Colombia. La Niña caused an excess of heavy rains and overcast weather reducing final yields significantly in the “mitaca” crop from the southern growing regions which only has harvest in the second of two annual crops in Colombia, Velez told Bloomberg news in a report published Aug. 19.
Colombia is one of less than a handful of coffee producing countries in the world that has two crops during the year. The main harvest that starts on Oct. 1 and for which picking continues until the end of January or early February, and the mid-crop – known as the mitaca – for which harvesting starts between the end of March or early April and runs through August. In the last 10-15 years rising output from the top southern province of Huila caused annual production to even out with the mitaca share growing to about 45% now from 30-35% 20 years ago, and the main harvest making up 55% of the total volume today.
The ongoing struggle for coffee growers across the world to try to adapt to constantly changing weather patterns including disturbing the traditional rain and sun patterns that are crucial in order to obtain even decent productivity comes at a crucial time for the global trade of the world’s most popular beverage. The smaller Colombian crop once again cut short hopes by those in the trade holding out for a miracle to turn the falling production trend around. This comes at a delicate time as a growing deficit in the global demand-supply balance following massive frost and drought damage in Brazil, the world’s biggest grower and exporter already raised alarms across the trade and sent arabica futures prices in New York to over $2 a pound on Oct. 11, more than double that of prices a year ago and near seven-year highs in late July.
Production in Colombia in the month of August fell 16% to 915,000 bags, from 1.091 million bags in August last year, while total production in the last 12 months fell 7% to 13.2 million bags from 14.2 million bags in the previous 12 months, Fedecafe reported in early September. But production in the first 11 months of the 2020-21 cycle from Sep-Aug was down 7% to 12.2 million bags from 13.1 million bags in the Sep.-Aug. period of the 2019-20 cycle, Fedecafe figures showed. Production in September last year reached 995,000 bags and while the final figures will be released later this week, production will continue the downward trend.
The weather has been “terrible” for the new 2021-22 crop in Colombia, Velez said in the August news report, while weather forecasters predict La Niña will return in full force later this month, just when physical harvesting of the new crop starts in earnest. An official figure has not been released for the new harvest.
Last time La Niña caused a major upset to the production cycle in Colombia was in 2007 when a temporary global cycle of cooler weather and more rain led to a reduction in sun exposure by over 30%, equivalent to less than 3.5 hours of sun exposure daily compared to 5 hours in a cycle without La Niña. The reduced sun exposure plays a major role in cutting coffee yields, according to scientific data from Colombia’s coffee research institute Cenicafe shared with STiR. Because the two annual crops in Colombia are cultivated on each side of the equator in some years one region has been facing La Niña weather while the other region at the same time faced the opposite twin effect known as La Niño, weather that brings sharply reduced rainfall and extreme heat, mostly causing varying degrees of drought.
The main crop is exclusively produced in the central and northern Colombian coffee growing regions which are located to the north of the equator, while the mitaca harvest mostly is grown in southern Colombia located to the south of the equator. The different weather needs for each of these two crops combined with the growing extremes of changes in weather patterns makes the climate impact particularly complicated to deal with for Colombia’s coffee growers.
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