Brazil’s robusta coffee harvest may be larger than officials believe, but sentiment is more mixed on prospects for the arabica crop, amid differing ideas of damage from frost and drought.

With 40-50% of the robusta crop harvested in Brazil’s top growing state, Espírito Santo, and 70-80% in Rondonia, commentators surveyed by research institute Cepea “believe the output will be higher” than that forecast by the official Conab ag bureau.

Conab has pegged the crop at a record 17.72m bags, up by 1.42m bags year on year, reflecting both a higher yield and extra trees reaching productive age.

Some observers in fact “believe robusta production will be near the 22.8m bags forecast by the US Department of Agriculture”, which two week reported that “favourable weather conditions and good crop management aided fruit settings and development” in Espirito Santo.

“A marginal increase in harvested area also supports” the upbeat forecast.

‘Significant crop failure’

By contrast, for arabica, for which harvesting is 10-30% complete, Cepea, a research institute linked to the University of Sao Paulo, reported a “distinct” variation in production estimates from its contacts.

“Some of them believe there will be a significant crop failure for arabica, estimating the national output near or even below” the official forecast.

Conab in May pegged the crop at 35.71m bags, up by 4.29m bags from 2021, but well below the level expected for an “on-year” in Brazil’s cycle of alternate higher and lower arabica-producing years, after frost and persistent drought harmed coffee trees.

Brazil grew 48.74m bags of arabica in 2020, the last on-year, with the 2022 forecast the lowest for an on-year since 2014, on Conab estimates.

However, other observers “are more positive” on Brazil’s arabica prospects for this year, seeing the harvest “near or slightly lower than” the USDA’s forecast

The USDA – while acknowledging last month that “arabica trees in many growing regions continue to recover from severe frosts in June and July 2021 as well as high temperatures and below-average rainfall that prevailed until September” – foresees output at 41.5m bags.

Resilient prices

Cepea reported Brazilian coffee prices as holding firm despite the boost to supplies from expanding harvests, with growers, enriched by high prices which have reined for the last year, proving measured in sales.

“Brazilian coffee farmers did not seem interested in closing deals, expecting quotations to rise higher,” the bureau said.

“These sellers have made cash flow, favoured by higher prices and uncertain supply.”

Cepea reported producers “selling only low volumes” last month, even in a rising market, with many waiting for roasters “to return to the market, which may push up values”.

The institute reported Brazilian arabica prices as of Monday at r$1,353.84 per bag, and robusta values at a five-week high of R$709.30 per bag.

Arabica prices are up 61% year on year, and up 133% from two years ago. For robusta, prices are up 40% year on year and by 112% from two years ago.