La Roya (Fungus) – Increasing issue in Central America Coffee Production

In El Salvador, an aggressive attack of a coffee-eating fungus is expected to limit the expected rebound in production during the 2012/13 season, Jean Guerrero of Dow Jones Newswires reports from Mexico City.

The Salvadoran Coffee Council said it’s still evaluating the extent of damage resulting from the fungus known as roya, but that according to a preliminary estimate, the disease has spread to about 20 percent of coffee-cultivated land. Guatemala and Honduras, the top Central American coffee growers, are also seeing unusually virulent cases of roya. Nevertheless, El Salvador’s coffee output is expected to reach 1.4 million 60-kilogram bags this season, up more than 20 percent from last season’s disappointing harvest as coffee plants recover their productivity after an off-year cycle. Coffee plants tend to alternate between robust and mediocre seasons, and this season is expected to be a good one.
However, in 2011/12, heavy and persistent rainfall that compounded the problem of seasonal low yields also set the stage for an enormous roya problem this season, since the fungus tends to spread with humidity and takes time to cause damage. Coffee officials are collecting samples at coffee plantations to determine, by the end of the month, what the damage will be. Weather has seen significant improvements this season, although early rain meant coffee farmers started harvesting in mid-September, two weeks earlier than usual, the council said. Harvesting has begun on about 20 percent of plantations. According to the council, exports to Germany are seen decreasing slightly as a result of the euro zone crisis, but demand from Canada, Japan and the United States are expected to stay strong or even increase. Preliminary figures show that nearly half of the country’s coffee exports this cycle are expected to meet quality standards from the Specialty Coffee Association of America and other gourmet requirements. That’s up from only a third last season as Salvadoran coffee beans become more attractive to international coffee roasters seeking high-quality arabica beans, the report said.

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