Guatemalan coffee growers look like running the gauntlet of
rust outbreaks for some years thanks to uncertainties over tree varieties
resistant to the fungus, which has prompted officials to urge against
replantings for now.
The Central American coffee rust outbreak caused even bigger
losses to Guatemalan production than originally thought, US Department of
Agriculture staff in Guatemala City said, cutting their forecast for the
2013-14 by 480,000 bags to 3.42m bags.
At that level, production would represent a 20-year low,
down 19.8% on the previous season, which itself saw some damage from the
initial phase of the outbreak of rust, which causes defoliation and heavy yield
losses, and can lead to tree death.
The disease had become "an epidemic, dispersing geographically
and with higher intensity, and greater impact on trees", the USDA staff said in
However, while many countries have responded to coffee rust
outbreaks by encouraging mass programmes of replanting with trees resistant to
the fungus, Guatemalan growers are being urged to hold-off.
Anacafe, the Guatemalan coffee association, "is urging
farmers to resist the temptation of quickly replanting" with existing
rust-resistant trees "until it becomes clearer that those existing varieties
produce good-tasting coffee, and are not susceptible to other coffee diseases",
the briefing said.
"Rust resistant/tolerant varieties experience other
Farmers in some other countries have complained over the yields
and cupping quality of beans from rust resistant trees, such as the Castillo
type which has been sown in Colombia.
Some Colombian growers have preferred to stick with
traditional varieties, and fork out for fungicides, while others have mixed
plantings of Castillo and historic types, often planting rust resistant trees
as a buffer around stands of other varieties.
In fact, Guatemalan growers have had some success in
limiting rust damage, especially in plantations at higher altitudes, with the
greater humidity and higher temperatures at areas below about 2,500 feet encouraging
the spread of the disease.
"With proper, adequate tissues management, coffee is not
nearly as devastating as what has been reported," the briefing said.
of the planting tissue, together with adequate nutrition, and preventive
spraying during the vegetative and flowering phases, leads to a good coffee harvest."
The USDA bureau forecast Guatemala's coffee harvest recovering
"slightly" in 2014-15 to 3.62m bags.
USDA staff have also forecast small recoveries in coffee output in El Salvador and Mexico, also struck by rust, but the fungus is expected to depress further Costa Rican production in 2014-15.