30th May, 2019
Brazilian growers have some bad news for coffee connoisseurs. In the country’s largest coffee-growing state, a sample of farms had an uneven bloom last year and suffered from searing temperatures, signalling a reduction in premium beans.
“We didn’t see the usual milder temperatures in March,” Cesar Oliveira Junior said from his plantation in the Alfenas municipality of southern Minas Gerais state. “During maturation, green beans quickly dried out like a raisin.”
A second-generation grower, Oliveira cultivates 210 hectares (519 acres) of the arabica variety in three farms, and usually produces 60% of semi-washed coffee, which commands higher prices and is favoured by prized brands such as Illy. But this harvest, he may reap fewer than 1,000 bags (1 bag = 60kg) of semi-washed from as many as 4,500 bags of total production.
“In the heat, the window to reap the cherries closes too quickly,” Givago Miranda, a farmer in the Tres Pontas municipality of Minas Gerais, said in interview. “The skin sticks on the beans.” The first beans harvested in Miranda’s farms have shown slightly higher-than-expected yields, although the low volume of semi-washed cherries is a bit concerning. “I hope I can produce enough to fill semi-washed sales contracts or I will have to buy from third parties,” he said. From the total of 8,500 bags he expects to produce this year, semi-washed cherries may account for fewer than 1,000. That’s fewer than half of what was expected.
Over the last two years, record exports from Brazil have contributed to a global glut and helped depress prices. In the last few days, adverse weather in the South American nation has fuelled an arabica rally. Besides scorching temperatures, excessive rains earlier this month increased the volume of beans knocked to the ground, which typically means higher levels of fermentation and lower quality, Miranda said. That impacts taste. Low-quality coffee may reach as much as 25% of output this year compared with less than 10% normally, he said. “We also had consecutive days of heavy rains over the beans that were drying on concrete outdoors,” Miranda said.
In the Cerrado savanna region, irrigation blunted the effects of high temperatures during maturation but a reduction in semi-washed production is still expected, said Paulo Veloso Junior, who heads Veloso Green Coffee, the exporting arm of Veloso Agropecuaria in Carmo do Paranaiba. “While it is too early to give an estimate, we are certainly going to have less pulped cherries and more beans knocked to the ground,” Veloso said from one of the group’s farm in the northern Minas Gerais municipality of Presidente Olegario.
Concerns over quality don’t extend to volume. Veloso Agropecuaria may collect 200,000 bags of arabica coffee this year versus 180,000 bags in the previous crop. "New areas are entering into production this year,” Veloso said. This year through April, Brazil shipped 2.5 million bags of premium arabica beans, or about 20% of the total of green arabicas exports and the highest for the period in the last three years, according to the nation’s coffee export group, CeCafe.