How the weather in Colombia is impacting coffee

There may be more than 2,000 miles separating S&D’s Concord headquarters and Colombia, but the weather conditions in the country’s coffee-growing regions have a far-reaching impact on the industry.

Overview of the situation

  • El Niño has shown its power in Colombia two ways: lack of rain and increased sunshine, which both lead to higher temperatures.
  • Output for crops harvested from March to April will be affected, mainly in Southern Colombia where they have their main crop in the first part of the year.
  • The most affected areas include northern Huila, Cauca, Narino and Tolima; combined the total production of these regions accounts for approximately 35 percent of the national harvest. These areas are known primarily for their high-quality coffees and a good portion of those coffees go into the market as specialty grade.
  • For the Coffee Belt, which includes the regions of Antioquia, Quindio, Caldas and Risaralda, the situation is different given that the effect of the Niño is on the quality of what is being produced, not the quantity, mainly in the form of Broca (Coffee Berry Borer).
  • The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) has already started a program to provide fertilizers for growers so they can feed their coffee trees properly and protect their productivity. The program went into effect in January 2016 and will run through July 31 of this year.

The situation in Colombia brings rise to several questions — both in terms of how producers in the region will combat these issues and how the greater coffee industry will be impacted.

What type of issues will this present to Colombia coffee sector?

The renovation program has fully kicked-in and is showing its results after more than five years of high levels of investment from the government and the FNC. The planted area has not significantly increased, which indicates that the farmers are becoming more productive (higher yields = better income).

Are they ready to handle these issues?

The wet and dry milling infrastructure is solid, and there is over capacity in general terms. The one potential bottleneck is drying capacity at the farm level. Drying is the critical step in Colombia in order to process coffee timely and properly. When this process is backed up, it limits the capacity of the farmer to produce better quality coffees.

Will the quality be affected?

In regions such as Huila, the largest coffee producing state in the country, exporters have mentioned about 50 percent of the coffee is being sold in wet parchment given the lack of drying capacity. This practice increases the potential for quality losses due to mold and fermented or improperly dried beans. Additionally, overall quality of the crop has been affected mainly due to the increase of Broca attributed to long periods of high temperatures last year.

Are there labor issues to collect the beans?

Labor has been an issue in recent years and will continue to be in the future. This is true mainly in regions in central Colombia such as Antioquia, Quindio, Caldas and Risaralda. Better yields at the farm level should encourage pickers to go to the farms as their daily income can increase; however, it is clear that more volume would require more people. Also, higher productivity in the farm could allow farmers to pay pickers better.

On the macro perspective, and as a potential benefit of the Peace Agreement between the FARC and the government of Colombia, the agricultural sector will be positively impacted with the addition of additional labor.

S&D continues to work with our partners at origin in Colombia to stay apprised of the evolving situation and ensure that our customers’ needs for quality coffee are met.

Learn more about Colombian coffee production, visit the FNC website. Additionally, for more information on David and his role in sustainable sourcing at S&D, read his author profile.