Colombia’s Q1 Coffee Output Seen Hit by El Nino

Bogota, Oct 26 – Expectations of strong droughts hitting Colombia in the first three months of next year have led some of the country’s coffee growers cut their production estimates for 2010.
The El Nino weather phenomena is producing high temperatures across the country and the tendency is expected to worsen into the first quarter.

Rains in September were 30 percent lower in the coffee producing departments of Santander, Norte de Santander, Quindio, Tolima, Huila and Narino compared with average September levels in previous years.

It was the driest September in 12 years, Humberto Gonzalez, director of weather forecast for the government’s weather office, IDEAM, told Reuters.

But the worst of El Nino could be yet to come. Rains in October through December could decrease 30 percent from average levels, while precipitation may be even lower during the first quarter of 2010.

“The average levels of rains in the October-December period will be below normal, affecting mainly the Andean region, where most of coffee production is located and the Colombian Caribbean,” Gonzalez said.

“The dry season could be worst between January and March, when El Nino is expected to intensify,” he said.

Colombia’s dry season is in the first quarter, but 2010’s will be particularly severe due to El Nino, Gonzalez added.

El Nino is an abnormal warming of water in the eastern Pacific Ocean off the west coast of South America. El Nino usually recurs every 3 to 7 years with varying degrees of intensity.

The intensity of the current Nino is moderate, Gonzalez noted.

Were it not for El Nino, rich-coffee producing areas such as Quindio, Risaralda, Antioquia and Tolima, which accounts for 52.4 percent of the country’s total bean production, could have an average rainfall of 2,150 millimeters (85 inches) this year.

But rainfall would total only 1,500 millimeters per year, predicts Gonzalez.

Poor weather predictions led the state of Huila to reduce its output estimate for next year to 1.7 million 60-kilogram bags, down from an initial projection of 2 million bags, Hector Falla, who represents producers for the province, said.

“All (information) makes us forecast that the January, February and March period is going to be really complicated,” he said.

The head of Colombia’s coffee growers’ federation recently said production for next year may total 11 million bags of 60-kilogram bags versus 9.3 million bags expected this year, give or take 5 percentage points.

Gomez believes coffee production will come near the lower target range of the federation’s target or around 8.8 million.

Other coffee producers are confident that IDEAM’s pessimistic predictions may not come true.

Javier Bohorquez, who represents 37,000 families spanning in 55 municipalities in the state of Cundinamarca, expects to collect 80 percent of next year’s 517,000 bags in the April-June harvest.

“IDEAM has historically been mistaken,” Bohorquez. “Even if it is doesn’t rain enough in the first quarter of the year, we have properly fertilized to withstand one month of no rains,” he concluded.

LESS RAIN IN SEPTEMBER

Colombia is the third biggest coffee producer in the world after Brazil and Vietnam.

According to the country’s National Coffee Research Center, known as Cenicafe, rainfall at the Paraguaicito weather station located in the municipality of Buenavista in the state of Cauca, received in September a-sixth of rains than what it gets on average for the month.

Cauca accounts for 7 percent of the country’s output.

The same situation was present in the coffee-rich municipality of Libano, in the state of Tolima, which got 70 millimeters of rains in September, compared to 220 millimeters it gets on average for that month.

Tolima weights 11.3 percent of total production, the third-heaviest weighted department in terms of production.

During the first 22 days of October, rainfall increased compared to September but that is still below average levels.

The Naranjal weather station next to Caldas’s coffee region of Chinchina, received 224 millimeters of rain in the first 22 days of October, down from an average of 288 millimeters in the same period in recent years, Cenicafe says.

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