Colombia coffee production fully recovers to surpass historical levels

Colombian coffee production has not only recovered its historic average levels but even exceeded them thanks to an intensive effort to renew plantations going back five years, the executive president of the Colombian Association of Coffee Exporters told Latin Business Daily.

“At the moment, with figures as of July, the cumulative production of the previous 12 months reached 13 million bags (each of 132 pounds). This has been a very fast process. One year ago we were at 11.5 milion bags,” Carlos Ignacio Rojas said in a telephone interview from Bogota. Rojas is president of Asoexport, the association created 82 years ago that represents the country´s main coffee exporters.

Rojas said that Colombian coffee production is recovering following massive investment in renewals of plantations that was made possible by government incentives. The investments resulted from the need to increase production after it reached historic low levels about five years ago, he said.

Colombia exports coffee in different forms, but the export figures mentioned by Rojas are for “green coffee” of the Arabica variety which is the standard for export and is traded in New York. Other exports like extracts, milled or toasted beans are not included.

In the last 40 years Colombian producers were producing on average, annually, about 12.5 million bags of coffee, he said.

“Historically we had that but when prices for coffee had an impressive decline starting in 1999 and continued very low in the early 2000s, investment declined,” Rojas said.

As a result of the investment decline, production steadily declined too between 2008 and 2010 reaching lows of only 7 million bags annually in March 2010, he said.

“Starting in 2008 we have been working on plant renewals. In 2010 the renewals with incentives begun,” Rojas said.

A coffee plant takes about 18 months to start production and peak production levels can take five years so the increase in production observed now is the result from investments in 2010, he said.

Rojas said that Colombia, unlike other Latin American regions like Peru or Central America, has fully controlled plagues like Coffee Leaf Rust thanks to the widespread use of resistant varieties. The country exports only the Arabica coffee which is sold at a premium compared with the other worldwide commonly sold variety known as Robusta and cultivated mainly in Africa and Asia. Arabica is tastier while Robusta is stronger.

The prices for Arabica coffee as traded in New York have been in the past 20 years on average about $1.26 per pound, he said.

“In 2014, prices were spectacular due to a drought in Brazil,” he said. Spikes in prices like that, when the value can soar above $2 per pound, only occur due to weather situations in Brazil which exports large quantities of Arabica, Rojas added.

The main destination for Colombian exports is the United States followed by the European Union and then Japan.