Heavy rains and cool temperatures added to the hit to Brazil’s coffee plantations from drought and frost, officials said, as they cut their crop hopes – and warned that the harvest was so bad it could alter the long-term production cycle.

Conab, the official Brazilian crop bureau, cut by 3.05m bags to 50.38m bags its estimate for the country’s nearly-finished 2022 coffee harvest, narrowing to 2.65m bags the improvement expected on last year’s result.

The estimate was dragged lower by a weakened estimate for the arabica harvest – downgraded by 3.30m bags to 32.41m bags, a poor figure for a crop reaped in an “on” year in Brazil’s cycle of alternate higher and lower producing years.

Indeed, the harvest was less than 1.0m bags above the figure for 2021, an “off” year – while coming in more than 16.3m bags short of the result for 2020, the last “on” year.

Too little rain, too much…

Conab restated the damage to arabica plantations from 2021’s “lack of rain in the reproductive phase of the crop… and by the frosts that occurred in June and July of last year.

“The long periods of water restriction and frosts that occurred in 2021 affected the productive potential of arabica coffee crops for the 2022 crop in São Paulo, Paraná and Minas Gerais.”

However, it added that this year had brought problems too, in terms of “the frequent rainfall that occurred at the beginning of the year, mainly in Minas Gerais”, the top arabica-growing state, conditions which “caused great leaching” of potassium, an important and highly soluble nutrient.

Furthermore, cool and cloudy weather prompted a “decrease in the photosynthetic activity” of trees.

Quality and quantity

In Minas Gerais itself, the bureau stressed that the periods of “adverse weather conditions… were crucial for a considerable reduction in production potential”.

Harvesting had revealed counts of arabica coffee cherries per tree “well below the expected” level, “with rosettes having fewer cherries than the standard, and with below-average weight”.

The Minas Gerais arabica harvest was downgraded by 2.74m bags to 21.75m bags – taking it below the 2021 total, despite 2022 being an “on” year.

This estimate factored in a yield figure cut to 21.59 bags per hectare – the state’s lowest outturn since 2009.

‘Possibility of inversion’

Conab said that the result was so poor that Brazil could see a reversal of its “on” and “off” year cycle, which sees even-numbered years, such as 2018 and 2020, produce the biggest crops.

“According to the literature, there is a possibility of inversion in the biennial period of arabica coffee,” the bureau said.

“However, more harvests are needed to confirm this trend.”

Brazil witnessed a temporary reversal of the cycle in 2013 and 2014, with the Zona de Mata region of Minas Gerais frequently running counter-cyclically, as from 2011-17.

‘Close to ideal’

For conilon, or robusta, coffee, which is not subject to the biennial cycle, Conab raised its 2022 production estimate by 254,000 bags to 17.97m bags, taking it further clear of last year’s record crop of 16.29m bags.

Nearly all conilon producing regions and enjoyed “good rainfall in crucial phenological stages” and temperatures “close to ideal”.

The upgrade reflected in the main an increase of 160,000 bags, to 2.85m bag, in the estimate for production in the northern growing state of Rondonia.

‘Consumption remains firm’

The bureau added that worries over Brazilian arabica supplies had “supported the rise in coffee prices in the international market”.

New York coffee futures in February touched 260.45 cents a pound on a nearest-but-one contract basis, the highest in a decade.

Conab also noted that “in relation to demand, consumption remains firm in Brazil,” another factor viewed as buoying arabica prices of late.

New York arabica futures for December stood at 224.10 cents a pound in morning deals on Tuesday, up by 1.4% on the day.

London November robusta futures stood 1.4% higher at $2,232 a tonne.