After ten long days of the highest recorded rainfall in El Salvador since 1960, the rains have reached an end; at least in the torrential, 24 hours-a-day category.
However, despite the optimistic reports of the first sunshine in a week and a half, and sub-sequential reinstating of coffees back onto the patio, we await reports and coming estimates of damages to not only the Central America region’s total coffee production, but to our own plantations as well; accompanying the effect that these reports may have on the global coffee market, and international prices for arabica coffee.
In Atlantic Specialty Coffee, Inc. report, Central America takes stock of rain damage to coffee, published October 18, Hernando Urena, manager of Costa Rica's national coffee cooperative federation comments, "We've already had nine days of uninterrupted rain and the coffee is ripe. Too much rain makes the berries swell up full of water and burst, and then they fall off."
As we walked the plantations, Emilio pointed out the these effects at both Finca Ayutepeque and El Manzano, however, noting more severe damage to the trees at Finca Ayutepeque, located at an altitude from 1,000 - 1,100 meters, as opposed to El Manzano, which is from 1,300 - 1,550 meters. All measured, the farm experienced a meter of rainfall, and at a lower altitude, cherries at Finca Ayutepeque ripen sooner, and therefore, at this point in the harvest, are more vulnerable to rain and heavy winds.
Scores of ripe coffee cherries lay in the dirt surrounding the trees in certain regions of the plantation, many of them split open. Many others, bulging with fluid, falling with a slight touch or sway of the tree; Emilio estimating as much as 15 - 25 percent of first ripened cherries to have been damaged or lost in initial areas, specifically those planted with the bourbon varietal.
Red Bourbon, is one of more than five varieties of coffee growing at the two plantations, comprising 95% of all the coffee grown. It experienced a greater degree of damage to its cherries than did other varieties observed, such as Pacas and Acaia; due to the fact that its branches and clusters of cherries are more spread out, as opposed to a much tighter, consolidated series of branches and clusters on other varieties mentioned. As a result, its cherries are more exposed to sunlight, causing them to ripen quicker, and again, leaving them more exposed and vulnerable to the wind and rain experienced.
Atlantic Specialty Coffee’s report goes on to site the uninterrupted rain as a potential cause for damage to the future crop as well, as a lack of sunshine can give fungus the environment to spread very easily throughout plantations.
While Emilio is confident this kind of damage will not harm the crop at El Manzano or Ayutepeque, we cannot speak on behalf of other plantations, and can only wait for time to tell of the total effect that this storm will have the region for the coming harvest.