Coffee exports from Central America’s “super six” group of mild arabica producing countries will recover back above 16m bags next season, led by a – modest – revival in output from key grower Honduras.

The super six – Costa Rica, El Salvador Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua – will ship 16.19m bags of coffee in 2022-23, as starts in October, analysis of forecasts from US Department of Agriculture bureaux in the region reveal.

That would represent some recovery from the 15.92m bags expected to be exported this season, although would remain well below the record of 18.23m bags set four years ago.

The rebound reflects expectations of an improvement in combined production from the six-year low of 17.26m bags estimated for this season as Honduras, the region’s top grower, saw its output depressed by an outbreak of coffee rust.

‘Leaf rust incidence spiked’

Indeed, Honduran output this season tumbled by 900,000 bags to 5.40m bags thanks to “wet weather conditions that promote leaf rust incidence”, the USDA bureau in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa said, referring to a plantation outbreak of the debilitating roya fungus.

“Leaf rust incidence spiked in April.”

Furthermore, Covid has undermined prospects too, squeezing the supplies of plantation workers, with the bureau noting that “the resurgence of the pandemic with the spread of delta and omicron variants has generated mobility restrictions for labourers”.

However, “Covid-19 incidence is expected to decrease in Honduras,” the bureau said, noting too that the continued repair of infrastructure damaged by the hurricanes in 2020.

“Reconstruction efforts of farms and roads access are still under way.”

Fertilizer factor

Costa Rican coffee production will expand too in 2022-23, by 90,000 bags to 1.37m bags, after “early rains arrived in sufficient volume to support robust flowering in key growing areas” – although with some concerns about moisture encouraging fungal disease here too.

“With meteorological forecasts for a stronger-than-normal rainy season, industry sources have expressed concerns about prospects for higher incidence of fungal diseases in 2022-23,” USDA staff in San Jose said.

Elevated fertilizer prices are also a “concern” in Costa Rica, as elsewhere in the region, with a more than doubling in nutrient values in Guatemala, for instance, viewed as fostering a 46,000-bag dip in output next season to a six-year low of 1.37m bags.

“Yields are negatively impacted by the jump in fertilizer costs, as farmers take economic decisions to reduce fertilizer application to maintain production costs,” the USDA’s Guatemala City bureau said.

“This is especially true in Guatemala, where at least 90% of the 125,000 coffee farmers are small and produce in less than 2 hectares.”

Export outlook

Honduran exports were forecast rising by 345,000 bags to 5.56m bags in 2022-23, but remaining below levels seen late in the last decade, when they rose as high as 7.23m bags in 2017-18.

Costa Rican shipments were seen expanding to a seven-year high of 1.15m bags “as production volume rebounds and high-quality Costa Rican coffee remains in-demand globally”.

However, Guatemalan volumes were forecast easing by 145,000 bags to a seven-year low of 3.11m bags, undermined by the weaker harvest.

“Though bean exports continue to be the most important type of Guatemalan exports, some roasted coffee is exported to El Salvador, and some soluble exports go to El Salvador and the United States.”