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Brazil coffee harvest lags as pandemic impacts fieldwork - report

Roberto Samora and Marcelo Teixeira

By Roberto Samora and Marcelo Teixeira

SAO PAULO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Brazilian coffee growers picked 13% of expected 2020 production by May 19, a slower pace than in the previous year and below the historical average for this time of the year, consultancy Safras & Mercado said in a report on Thursday.

It said restrictions to the movement of people due to coronavirus-led lockdowns, particularly in the main robusta- producing state of Espirito Santo, caused delays in field work in that state, which impacted the overall harvest number.

Harvest in the top arabica coffee-producing state of Minas Gerais is still in the early stages.

Traders and producers were expecting problems for the harvest in South America this year due to restrictions on movement.

Brazil is the world's largest coffee producer and exporter. Safras projects the crop to reach a record 68.1 million 60-kg bags this year.

The consultancy said farmers had collected 16% of the crop by this time last year, versus the 5-year average of 15%.

Safras' coffee analyst Gil Barabach said many farmers in Espirito Santo state decided to delay the harvest as a strategy to deal with the new coronavirus.

"They are going to wait for a larger maturation point for the coffee, and with that try to reduce the number of times they need to take people to the fields for harvest work," said Barabach.

Delaying harvesting can work for robusta coffee, but might hurt quality if done in arabica fields. Most-prized arabica beans are ones picked at the ideal maturation point.

Brazil's coronavirus outbreak worsened this week and the South American nation could soon have the second-highest number of cases in the world. The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 888 new deaths and nearly 20,000 new infections.


(Reporting by Roberto Samora and Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Dan Grebler)