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Coffee Frosts

Effects of Frost on South American Coffee Beans

With new technological capabilities, news of Brazil coffee frosts echoes around the world within a matter of minutes. Correspondingly, coffee prices usually jump due to expectations of a worldwide coffee shortage. Brazil produces nearly twenty-five million 60 Kg sacks of coffee. This is approximately 25% of the world's supply. A frost has far reaching effects since it can reduce or completely annihilate much of the world supply in a matter of one day.

A coffee plant will typically recover from a frost within a year--especially with the right care. Brazil coffee frosts usually occur in the south, where historically the vast majority of coffee is grown. June, July, and August are the coldest parts of the year in Brazil. Within a frost danger zone, the low-lying areas are the most susceptible since cold air will flow down the mountains and settle in the valleys. Additionally, those plots of land that have sun exposure until sunset are more resistant to cold temperatures than those plots that are shaded for part of the afternoon. The reason for this is that the soil retains a significant amount of heat and will slowly release this heat throughout the night. The very minor temperature increase is often enough to save the plants. New technology--such as fog machines that blanket the trees--is also used in emergency cases when a crop might be lost. Coffee plants less than one year in age should be covered in bags since they are very susceptible to frost and cannot endure severe damage.

There are two types of Brazil coffee frosts. The first type is traditional frost that will hurt the coffee plant and its next crop. The second type, called "black frost" is more difficult to identify, but has an impact on the productivity of the coffee plant. In the latter type of frost, the coffee plant is not frozen by subzero temperatures, but rather affected by the combined effect of wind and temperatures from 2-5 °C. Both types of frost will diminish coffee production.

As new technology allows the rapid spread of information about Brazil coffee frosts, there is a corresponding doubt about production forecasts. Since damage estimates take time and the best indicator of future production after a frost is the extent of the flowering, market reaction is understandably cautious. Further, as more Brazilian coffee farmers move north to avoid frost problems, the Brazilian coffee production will not fluctuate as dramatically when a frost occurs. This, however, will lead to an overabundance of coffee worldwide that may keep coffee prices low throughout the world. As Vietnam boosts its Arabica production, the oversupply of coffee will likely become the most pressing issue in the specialty coffee industry.

Related Articles

History of Coffee Frosts

Coffee Exportation Statistics

New York Coffee Exchange


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