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Enjoy that Colombian cup of Joe that you sip every morning because it may be tough to find it in a couple of months.
The La Niña phenomenon is again wreaking havoc in many areas across the South American nation, already killing 95 people and affecting more than 300,000 since the rain began in September, according to the International Red Cross – and it's having a devastating impact on the country's coffee supply. Worrisome speculation grows as the Colombian Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies reports that this year's rain season could extend until March 2012, just a month before another one begins.
It’s a hard pill to swallow in Colombia because the country already went through a devastating coffee season last year that left over 1.5 million people homeless. But besides the weather's overwhelming effect on its citizens, Colombia still must deal with the fallout of the wet winter months that will, for a second year in a row, cut coffee production and hurt chances for future supply goals.
The original aim for this year was to produce some 9 million bags of coffee. But that goal is looking very bleak.
"Based on what's happening now, reaching that amount is going to be difficult,” says Luis Fernando Samper, spokesman for the National Federation of Colombian Coffee Growers. "Because of the weather changes, forecasting a particular number has become a lot trickier. So we are doing what we have to do in terms of planting and renovating new trees.”
Samper speaks of the ongoing process of hectare renovation, which aims to repair coffee trees whose flowers have been affected by precipitation and humidity.
In the first 10 months of the year, the coffee growers already renovated over 100,000 hectares, a high number for such a short period of time. But they hope to keep the hard work going.
"We may finish the year with 120,000 hectares, which would be a record for Colombia,” adds Samper. “We´re picking up speed and have more productive trees ready to produce. But we cannot control the unpredictable weather.”
Despite being the world’s second-largest supplier of Arabica coffee beans, the growers federation still believes that this Andean nation this year may produce its smallest crop in two years. It’s a growing concern as lower production contributes to a decrease in stockpiles of the bean that’s brewed by Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks.
Though calculating how this rain season will affect coffee prices internationally is hard to predict. Having already dealt with high fertilizer prices and a weak U.S. dollar, the nation knows that the American currency's value can determine a lot about how much is exported every year. Thankfully, the dollar has gotten a bit stronger in recent weeks, giving exporters here at least something to be happy about.
Although Colombia actually has more coffee trees and is utilizing the more productive ones, sun exposure and humidity is preventing them from having the dry period necessary to bud quality flowers. As a result, coffee leaf fungus forms and kills the crop. And without enough time for a tree to recuperate, it may take more than one season to see it bloom.
So a quality renovation could be the key to getting back on track. But still, the weather will always dictate the amount of production.
"Everything that we have been doing, we have been fulfilling,” says Mr. Samper. "Coffee growers are doing what they need to do. The only thing that is completely out of control is the weather. That makes our jobs much more difficult.”
With all the uncertainty surrounding the rain and the possibility that it could get worse for future harvests, the nation’s long-term goal of producing 17 million, 132 bags of coffee in 2014 may be in serious jeopardy.
David Noto is a freelance journalist for Fox News Latino in Colombia.