The hangover from drought and frost on this year’s Brazilian coffee crop will prove even larger than had been thought, officials said, as they cut their arabica harvest forecast, citing reduced yield hopes.

Conab, Brazil’s official crop bureau, downgraded by 3.07m bags, to 35.71m bags, its forecast for the 2022 arabica crop in the world’s largest producing country.

While still representing growth of nearly 4.3m bags year on year, that is an unusually small increase for what is an “on” year in Brazil’s cycle of alternate higher and lower arabica-producing years.

The last “on” year, 2020, saw a 14.44m-bag upswing year on year to 48.74m bags in output.

“The expected positive biennial effect… is not being confirmed in the current harvest,” the bureau said.

‘Very adverse conditions’

Indeed, Conab cut by 2.5 bags to 24.6 bags per hectare its forecast for Brazil’s arabica yield this year, taking it 24% below the 2020 result, and representing the lowest for an “on” year since 2014.

Terming the figure as “below expectations”, the bureau cited the “very adverse conditions” early in the growing season, notably in Minas Gerais, the top arabica-growing state, where growers faced a “very challenging” season”.

The state suffered “prolonged periods of drought between June and September 2021, and even incidence of frost”, which had overshadowed the first rounds of blossoming by prompting stressed trees to ditch fertilized flowers rather than allowing them to set and develop into coffee cherries.

The conditions had prompted a “greater degree of abortion, resulting in crops with a lower-than-expected fruit load”, Conab said.

Early harvest results

After a low rate of fruit-setting, even benign weather since October has proved unable to improve yield prospects, despite improving the condition of arabica trees.

Results of the very early harvest in southern Minas Gerais had borne out this effect, Conab said.

There, “crops present good vegetative conditions, well foliated”, but also display the impact of the “low setting of pellets in the first blooms due to water stress… in addition to the effects of frost and low temperatures that occurred there in July/August.”.

Robusta upgrade

The disappointing arabica prospects contrasted with an improving outlook for Brazil’s robusta production this year, with Conab lifting its forecast for 2022 production of the variety by 757,000 bags, to an all-time high of 17.72m bags.

The upgrade took the crop even further above the record of 16.29m bags set last year, and reflected an increase of 2.0 bags per hectare, to an all-time high of 45.5 bags per hectare, in the yield estimate.

“The good rainfall recorded in the producing regions, combined with the ideal temperatures recorded, project a yield increase of 4.9% compared to the 2021 harvest,” Conab said.

Total harvest

Brazil’s overall coffee production this year was pegged at 53.43m bags, above the 47.72m bags harvested in 2021, but a downgrade of 2.32m bags.

In 2020, the last “on” year for Brazilian arabica plantations, production hit a record 63.08m bags.

The report comes amid a fresh focus on cold weather in Brazil, which prompted a 6% rally in New York arabica coffee futures for July over the first two sessions of this week to 227.20 cents a pound, although futures retreated strongly in the last session as frost concerns eased.

The July contract stood mid-session on Thursday at 219.10 cents a pound, up 0.6% on the day.