Brazil's arabica crop: Bigger and better after drought

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2016 12:33 PM

By Reese Ewing

GUAXUPE, Brazil (Reuters) - Whichever of the many forecasts for Brazil's maturing arabica coffee crop end up on the mark, there is no doubt the harvest will be large and have more big screen beans. It will also likely to be of excellent quality as La Nina kicks in.

On a recent trip by Reuters through the heart of Brazil's main arabica belt along the border between Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais, the country's two leading growing states, agronomists said farms were fully recovered from two years of drought.

Trees were laden with large, dense and ripening fruit with low incidence of disease and pests.

"The volume of the crop is no longer at risk. It's big and the weather is not going to change the size much," Carlos Fidelis, an economist at Brazil's biggest coffee cooperative Cooxupe, said while touring farms in the region.

Factbox of coffee forecasts:

Fidelis said trees in Guaxupe, a hilly region in southern Minas Gerais, a state that produces 75 percent of Brazil's arabica, were holding a normal distribution of large beans, typically classified by screen sizes of 17 or greater and preferred by roasters in Italy and Germany.

Over the past two harvests, damage from drought and hot weather caused the crop to produce smaller beans.

"This will be the first year in the past three where larger beans will be over 30 percent of the harvest," said Ezelino Tessarini, an engineer at the Coopinhal cooperative.

Yields on the 10,000 hectares around the co-op will improve by 23 percent from last year to 28-to-30 bags a hectare, Tessarini said from a receiving warehouse in Espirito Santo do Pinhal, in Sao Paulo.

Meteorologists forecast the coffee belt to shift to the dry season ahead of harvest, which is still a month away as beans finish filling out and maturing.

Warming Pacific waters along the equator, known as El Nino conditions, contributed to the rainy weather in southeast Brazil in recent months. But meteorologist Marco Antonio dos Santos at forecaster Somar, said the Pacific was cooling quickly, which would lead to drier La Nina weather as soon as April.

If sunny skies during harvest are confirmed, it bodes well for the eventual taste of beans. Moist weather when beans are cured taints them with an undesirable bitter taste.

"When the Pacific was warming, we saw lots of rain, but not this year," Santos said, forecasting rains this week over the coffee belt but then increasingly drier weather ahead.

(Reporting by Reese Ewing; Editing by Tom Brown)