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The coffee bean is a fickle commodity. Coffee bushes are particular about their weather. If it’s too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry, the coffee crop suffers. When there are too many damp days, the crop is subject to coffee rust and other diseases that kill the plants or damage the coffee yield. Even after the coffee cherries are picked, the weather can affect the quality of the coffee. Most African coffees are dry processed, the cherries spread out on tarps in open areas to dry in the sun.
In September, 2009, a number of countries in Africa reported coffee yields far lower than expected due to a combination of drought, late season rains and diseases. Kenya, for instance, reported an estimate of about 57,000 tons in September based on its 2008-2009 output. By December, the country had reduced its estimate to 47,000 tons because of the drought. In February, that estimate was revised again—upwards, this time, to about 50,000 tons. Louise Njeri, managing director of the Coffee Board of Kenya, told Bloomberg News on February 11 that the Board will be doing field checks, and may release an even more optimistic report in March or April, if the weather continues to cooperate.
Other countries are not quite as positive in their outlook. The director of Tanzania’s Coffee Board, Adolph Kumburu, estimated a 40% drop in coffee production for 2010 over the country’s 2008-2008 exports of 68,000 tons. This year, widespread drought in East Africa affected the flowering of the coffee crop. If the weather holds, Tanzania, Africa’s 4th largest coffee producer, may export about 40,000 tons this year. Kumburu told Bloomberg News that the country is doing a massive replanting, aiming to add 10 million trees this year. The eventual goal is to export 100,000 tons of coffee by 2015.
African coffees aren’t the only world coffees projecting shortage. Where African crops are affected by the drought, some South American countries are having the opposite problem. In January, Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry forecast a major boost in production because much of the Brazilian crop was entering the more productive half of the coffee plant’s 2 year cycle.
The January coffee forecast for Brazil was an increase from last year’s 39 million bags to as much as 48 million bags exported this year. Unfortunately, unusually heavy showers have affected the flowering of the coffee crop, and by mid-February the official coffee forecast was down to below last year’s crop.
In Colombia, above average rainfall contributed to the country’s lowest harvest since 1974. The harvest this year is expected to be better, if the weather cooperates. Even if it does, Colombian output for 2010 will be lower than expected for a second year in a row. Meanwhile, Vietnamese coffee production is also down because of poor weather, and Indonesia’s top coffee producers are predicting that their exports will fall by as much as 12% over last year.