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Brazil cuts coffee harvest estimate, citing pest damage

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Brazil cut its estimate for its soon-to-be-completed coffee harvest, citing damage to its arabica crop from beetle pests and wet weather, more than offsetting improved ideas of robusta production.

Conab, Brazil's official crop bureau, downgraded by 790,000 bags to 44.77m bags its estimate for the country's 2017 coffee harvest, the world's biggest.

The estimate for the robusta crop was raised by 568,000 bags to 10.71m bags, although this would still represent the second weakest result of this decade, behind only last year's drought-ravaged crop.

However, the upgrade was more than offset by a reduction in the estimate for arabica production, cut by 1.36m bags to 34.07m bags - taking it 22% below the 2016 result.

'Significant outbreak of pests'

In fact, some reduction in the arabica harvest had been expected, thanks to 2017 being an "off" year in Brazil's overall cycle of alternately higher and lower production years.

However, the downturn had proved larger than had been thought in Minas Gerais, the top arabica-growing state, where the output forecast was downgraded by 1.26m bags to 32.90m bags, with a particular downgrade in the Triângulo, Alto Paranaíba e Noroeste area in the east.

Here, Conab flagged a "significant outbreak of pests and diseases", with many cherries damaged by the borer beetle, a setback to quality as well as quantity.

The bureau highlighted that some pesticides had "not provided efficient control of pests", with Brazil having joined the global drive to ban endosulfan, an insecticide linked to human health threats.

Grower 'surprise'

Meanwhile, centre-west area of Minas Gerais, including Zona de Mata, whose cycle of on and off years runs contrary to that in the rest of the country, will see only an 8.0% rise in production this year, well below the 19.8% previously expected.

The region's growers had been "surprised" by the production shortfall, Conab said, flagging a setback from borer beetles but also weather which, after being helpful for much of the growing season, turned excessively wet during May and June.

This wetness, besides prompting a "large quantity" of cherries to drop prematurely from trees, hampered the bean-dryness process, hurting coffee quality.

Robusta improvement

By contrast, the upgrade to the conilon production estimate reflected in the main a hike of 542,000 bags to 1.84m bags in the forecast for the harvest in Bahia, in north eastern Brazil, more than double the 826,000 bags harvested last year.

Conab flagged the boost to yields from improved weather and the growing use of irrigation, now available to 40% of plantations, after a harvest last year devastated by drought.

The estimate for the crop in the northern state of Rondonia was upgraded by 68,000 bags to 1.94m bags, reflecting primarily a "constant process of renewal" of trees with upgraded varieties, which was seeing farms focus on smaller areas but achieve much higher yields.

Investment in the likes of fertilizers and irrigation had also helped yield improvement, estimated at 14.9% year on year.

By Mike Verdin

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