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Colombian coffee exports to hit 25-year high next season

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Colombia's coffee exports will nudge higher to their largest in 25 years next season, US officials said, even as they unveiled a relatively downbeat output forecast - while seeing only a partial recovery in Indonesia's production.

US Department of Agriculture's Bogota bureau, in its first estimates for 2017-18, forecast Colombia's coffee exports - of which the US is the top buyer - rising 50,000 tonnes to 13.19m tonnes.

Shipments at that level would be the highest since 1992-93, and represent a 79% recovery from the low reached five years ago, when a replanting programme with trees resistant to the devastating rust fungus prompted a temporary production downturn.

"Colombian coffee exports have been expanding significantly since 2013, paralleling the recovery in coffee production," the bureau said.

'Levels not seen since the 1990s'

Indeed, the bureau forecast Colombia's coffee output also showing a small improvement in 2017-18, of 100,000 bags, to set a 25-year high of 14.6m bags.

"Colombia coffee production is at… levels not seen since the early 1990s as a result of the highly successful replanting programme of coffee rust resistant varieties and good weather conditions," the bureau said.

Nonetheless, the forecast is below estimates from some other commentators, with Marex forecasting Colombia's coffee harvest next season at 14.8m bags, and Rabobank pegging it at 15.0m bags

Colombia's finance minister, Mauricio Cardenas, last week estimated domestic output in calendar 2018 at at least 15m bags.

Tree numbers

However, the USDA estimates factored in a levelling off in the number of mature trees, at 3.50bn, next season, with the knock-on effects of the replanting programme now largely worked through.

The number of bearing trees was estimated rising by 600m this season.

The comments also come amid some concerns over the production for the rest of 2016-17, which ends in September, thanks to rains early in the year and more recently, as the so-called mitaca harvest accelerates.

Colombia's output in April fell 20% year on year.

Soft commodities analyst Judith Ganes-Chase said earlier this week that "rains could mar production prospects and slow the harvest even further.

"It also could lead to vulnerability for disease under too wet conditions."

The USDA nonetheless raised by 500,000 bags, to 14.5m bags, its forecast for Colombia's coffee output this season.

'Excessive rainfall'

Separately, USDA staff in Jakarta pegged coffee output in Indonesia – the fourth-ranked producing country, behind Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia – at 10.9m bags in 2017-18, on an April-to-Mach basis.

That would represent an increase of 300,000 bags on last season's weather-affected levels, but still below the record 12.1m-bag harvest recorded in 2015-16.

"Industry contacts report that highland robusta production is expected to be down following excessive rainfall during the October–November flowering period," the officials said.

"However, lowland coffee production is expected to increase, offsetting the highland declines."

'More aggressive than expected'

The forecast compares with a Marex estimate of a 10.5m-bag crop next season, while Rabobank sees production recovering to 11.6m bags.

The USDA staff forecast Indonesia's exports rising by 100,000 bags in 2017-18, having hit 7.20m bags last season, stronger than initially expected

"Exports are more aggressive than expected, with January -February green bean exports 25% higher than the same period in 2016."

Indonesia is in the main a grower of robusta beans, supplies of which have been squeezed by dryness damage to crops in Vietnam and Brazil.

Brazilian officials on Thursday upgraded their hopes for the recovery in Brazilian robusta coffee output in 2017-18, following rains in Espirito Santo, the country's top robusta-growing state.

By Mike Verdin

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