February 5, 2019 / 6:39 PM / 6 months ago

Colombia coffee crop to recover in 2019, buoyed by weather, federation says

BOGOTA, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Colombia’s arabica coffee crop will recover in 2019 as a mild El Nino weather phenomenon aids flowering, the head of the country’s growers federation said on Tuesday, but low prices remain a worry.

The country produced 13.6 million 60-kg bags of washed arabica last year, down 4.5 percent from 14.2 million in 2017, as growers struggled with heavy rains and dismal international prices.

But dry El Nino weather is already boosting tree flowering in the world’s top producer of arabica, federation head Roberto Velez said in an interview on Tuesday.

“This year we have a very different scenario when it comes to the weather,” Velez said. “We have had a moderate El Nino which is convenient for the moment when the trees have to have stress to flower and really we’re seeing really good flowering.”

If farmers properly fertilize their trees, the weather could mean a “very good” harvest that will take output back near the 14 million bag mark, Velez said.

El Nino is a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific. In Colombia it is associated with dry weather and flash floods, while in other countries it can cause intense rain.

But low international prices remain a concern, with many Colombian farmers not even able to break even.

“I hope we don’t see prices of 95 cents (per pound) again,” Velez said. “A price below $1.10 doesn’t cover the cost of production - it’s a great tragedy.”

The federation has been making that case to large coffee buyers, he said, asking them to help ensure producers make a decent profit. The effort has so far been met with little response.

“No one is talking about earning an extravagance, no one is talking about disproportionate prices, but at minimum that the industry be conscious ... that it needs to keep its suppliers with enough economic backing to continue growth,” Velez said.

Farmers need to make 760,000 pesos (about $240) per 125 kg (275 pounds) shipment on the internal market to meet production costs, the federation has said. Prices on the internal market were 735,000 pesos per shipment on Monday.

The federation hopes more farmers will begin roasting their own coffee or growing specialty strains, both of which add to profit margins, Velez said.

The sector has long grappled with a perennial labor shortage, but the federation hopes a new harvesting machine could cut that shortage in half. (Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta Editing by Helen Murphy and Phil Berlowitz)

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