Will There Be a Shortfall in Colombian Coffee Production Due to El Niño?

The El Niño weather event that began in mid-2023 is weakening as of May of 2024.according to the World Meteorological Organization. Nevertheless, it continues to affect the climate at it origin along the west coast of South America and across the world. This El Niño event has been the fifth strongest on record. As such it has had various effects on coffee production in Colombia from positive to negative depending on the local micro-climate. Across the country as a whole and especially in the higher producing region of the Eje Cafetero, there could be a shortfall in Colombian coffee production in 2024.

Why Does El Niño Affect Coffee Production?

An El Niño weather event affects amounts of rainfall, humidity, temperature, cloud cover, and consequently plant diseases and plant growth. In contrast to the immediately preceding La Niña weather event which increased rainfall and cloud cover, humidity, and plant diseases, El Niño has provided more sunshine, less rain, higher temperatures, and periods of rain deficit during which time there is better flowering and fruit filling, provided that the rain deficit is not excessive. Thus coffee production is expected to recover from the deficit during the La Niña years. An additional benefit to coffee production has been lower fertilizer prices which has led to improved coffee crop nutrition.

Coffee Grown in Colombia’s Three Coffee Growing Regions

Colombia produces coffee year round but not all from the same growing region. The southern zone harvest coffee during the first half of the year. The central zone harvest during the second and third semesters, and the northern zone harvest takes place during the second half of the year. Weather forecasters are predicting that El Niño will continue to weaken and transition back into La Niña by the end of 2024.

Tail End of La Niña and Coffee Borer Beetles

A big factor that will have dragged down Colombian coffee production in 2024 will the increase in coffee borer beetles due to rainfall excess at the end of 2023. The problem was lower grain filling due to the beetle. To compensate for this, the drying weather in the middle of the year will likely increase the 2024 harvest. Toward the end of the year when the major harvests are taking place a big factor will be the availability of labor for picking and processing the coffee.

On the other hand, the flowerings responsible for the harvest are concentrated in the second half of the year, together with adequate rainfall, which could lead to an important harvest by the end of the year, where the availability of labor and the processing capacity will be decisive.

Will There Be a Shortfall in Colombian Coffee Production Due to El Niño?

El Niño Versus La Niña and Coffee Leaf Rust

Whether it is a normal year, an El Niño year, or a La Niña year, it tends to rain a lot in Colombia and there tends to be a lot of cloud cover. This is generally good for coffee plants in rich volcanic soil and adequate drainage. However, excess moisture also favors fungal infestations. The primary culprit in Colombia is coffee leaf rust, AKA Hemileia vastratrix. Colombia has risen to the challenge of this plant infestation in several ways. First of all, staring back in the 1980s when leaf rust first appeared in Colombia started creating resistant varieties. These include the Colombia variety and then Castillo and Cenicafe 1.

Other fungal infestations include Llaga Macana or Ceratocystis fimbriata and various Rhizoctonia species. There are no specifically resistant strains for these plant diseases so the coffee farmer is tasked with chores like clearing debris (fungal food) from around the coffee plants.

The bottom line is that Colombia coffee production will likely come in at a high level by the end of 2024.

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