The latest spell of unseasonal rains has compounded the woes of beleaguered arabica growers in the key coffee-growing regions of Kodagu and Chikmagalur. The rain, over the past week, has not only hit the ongoing harvest, but is also seen affecting the quality of arabicas, the mild and premium variety of coffee.
“The impact of these untimely rains during picking has been quite significant. It will shrink the arabica crop size even further by at least 10-15 per cent,” said K Kurian, Chairman of the Karnataka Planters Association (KPA), the apex body of growers in the State.
Arabica output has been declining in recent years and the KPA recently pegged this year’s (2014-15) output at between 60,000 and 70,000 tonnes, much lower than the State-run Coffee Board’s 1.05 lakh tonnes estimate. The Board is yet to announce the post-monsoon crop estimates. Coffee Board, in its post-blossom projections, had pegged 2014-15 crop at a record 3.44 lakh tonnes including 2.39 lakh tonnes of robustas.
Kurian said the rain has hit the arabica harvest resulting in fruit droppings and splitting of the ripened berries. Besides, the untimely downpour is seen affecting the quality of the arabicas that’s already harvested and being dried in the yards.
“The rain has raised the prospects of fungus affecting the beans. Also, the colour of the bean, caught under the rain tends to fade affecting quality and resulting in lower realisations,” said Vasant, a grower from Shanivar Santhe, Kodagu.
It is estimated that about 30-40 per cent of the arabica crop has already been harvested by the growers. “The rain has worsened the plight of arabica growers. It is an added insult. The crop is down by almost half the initial estimates,” said N Bose Mandanna, a large grower and former Vice-Chairman of Coffee Board.
Mandanna said that the increase in coffee droppings due to the rains would result in higher costs for the growers as gathering such berries from the ground is expensive when compared to picking from the bushes.
However, the rains are seen beneficial for the robusta variety which will come up for harvest sometime in February. “The rains are a kind of winter irrigation for the robustas,” Mandanna said.
The growers are unlikely to gain from a reduced arabica crop as the prices are linked to the global markets. Arabicas prices are on a downward trend in the global market. From around $1.98 per pound in mid November, the ICE Arabica futures have declined by about 13 per cent to around $1.72. Farm gate prices of arabicas have dropped to around Rs. 10,400 per 50-kg bag of Arabica parchment and Rs.4,950 for arabica cherry.