Honduras worse hit by coffee rust that thought

Coffee production in Honduras, Central America's top coffee producer, has been more badly effected by the coffee rust outbreak than initially thought, but will bounce back next season to its second highest on record.

The US Department of Agriculture bureau in Tegucigalpa said that Honduras, the third-ranked coffee producer in the Americas after Brazil and Colombia, produced 4.60m bags of beans, all of the arabica variety, in 2013-14, which started in October.

That is 400,000 bags fewer than the USDA's official forecast, and 1.0m bags below the record high two seasons ago, before the country was, like other Central American nations, struck by an outbreak of coffee rust, a fungus which causes defoliation and can lead to tree loss.

"Honduras was affected by the coffee rust outbreak in about 25% of the cultivated coffee acreage," the bureau said.

Anti-rust drive

However, output will recover to 4.98m bags in 2014-15, the second largest crop on record, thanks to the expansion in tree area in a sector which employs nearly one-third of Hondurans, and which had already invested heavily in rust resistant trees.

The extent of trees rust resistant varieties planted over the past 20 years, since a previous outbreak of the fungus, but particularly in a replanting programme begun five years ago, has protected the industry somewhat from the outbreak.

About 60% of Honduran coffee trees are of rust resistant varieties.

Results of an official survey, published in April, "indicated a low national average incidence of coffee rust with 12%," the bureau said.

"The average of severely affected coffee farms with the leaf rust was 1%."

Regional recovery

The recovery in production will allow Honduras to export 4.70m bags of coffee in 2014-15, up from 4.22m bags expected this season, a figure also below the official USDA estimate of 4.80m bags.

The revival will lift Central American exports overall by 7.5% to 12.6m bags, factoring in estimates from USDA officials in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala too.

Estimates for Nicaragua have yet to be released, and are not included.

Production for the five countries will rise 5.8% year on year to 14.55m bags in 2014-15, the combined forecasts show.

The five-year average up to 2011-12, the last season before rust struck, for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico was 17.3m bags in production and 15.2m bags in export.

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