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Brazil's coffee industry needs action 'soon' over climate change

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Coffee market guru Carlos Brando urged Brazil's industry to tackle the threat of climate change, as he cautioned over stagnation in the country's output, and of a "new drought" in the top robusta-growing state.

Mr Brando - director at marketing and trading group P&A Marketing, and advisor to the likes of the World Bank and International Coffee Organization – said that the march north by Brazil's coffee growers from the frost-prone south had made climate a "much greater threat and challenge" to output.

Indeed, "higher temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns have become much more important indicators of actual crop size" than before production switched from southern areas such as Parana, also a major wheat growing state, to the likes of Minas Gerais, better known for sun-needy corn.

And weather setbacks have been evident in a slowdown in Brazilian output particularly evident when smoothing out year-to-year volatility by analysing data on a multi-year average basis.

As measured on a four-year average basis, Brazilian output - after a "long pattern of growth" from levels around 30m tonnes at the start of this century - has been on a gentle decline, to some 46m bags, since hitting a high in 2013.

'Another major challenge'

The trend "indicates show production in the last three crops reacted to climate change", said Mr Brando.

Tackling the "problem" may require not just the introduction of drought-tolerant coffee trees, which researchers are working on, "but a wider integrated approach" involving the broader use of irrigation and shade trees, as well as changes in harvesting technology.

"If recent history is a guide, the Brazilian coffee business will react positively to yet another major challenge," he said.

But the output retreat suggested by the fall in Brazil's four-year average production "indicate that this has to happen soon".

'Drought alert'

Already, weather setbacks had undermined Brazil's 2018 coffee production prospects, with Mr Brando flagging the failure of follow-up rains in parts of Minas Gerais, the top arabica-growing state, after initial rainfall which prompted "intense flowering".

With the reversion to dryness lowering the proportion of blossoms likely to developing into cherries, "experts claim that the production potential has already been reduced, also because coffee trees now have fewer leaves due to the heat".

Meanwhile, in Espirito Santo, the biggest robusta growing state, reports suggest that "a new drought may be brewing after a period of rains.

"A drought alert should be in the radar screens of experts who estimate the Brazilian crop."

By Mike Verdin

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