THE COMBINED effects of berry borer infestation, unfavourable weather conditions and farmer apathy could result in Jamaica's lowest coffee production in more than 20 years.
"When we did our crop estimate this year (2010-2011) we thought the crop might be as high as 234,000 boxes when the Advisory Services Division did its forecast. However, those numbers are being revised right now and it's looking as if it could be as low as 150,000, to 180,000, significantly lower after Gilbert," director general of the Coffee Industry Board (CIB), Christopher Gentles told AgroGleaner recently.
He added: "The incidence of berry borer damage is significantly higher than it was a year and a half ago. As a result, this year the crop is projected to be 30 per cent lower, at minimum, than last year and there are two big reasons. The first reason is that we had a fallout because farmers have got lower prices, extended late payment for deliveries and all of that."
Declining to give a figure on the national rate of infestation in the absence of a formal survey, Gentles disclosed that there are indicator farms showing rates above 31 per cent. He then went on to put in context the likely financial fallout. Our crop used to be benchmarked to earn, let's say US$25 million, so 10 per cent of that is US$2.5 million and then you have higher processing fees, we get lick two sides."
"The second reason is that the weather has been very even and we didn't get that usual dry spell in January, February. We got more even rains and as a result of that a lot of the trees in the higher regions didn't set a huge crop, "Gentles reported. "Now what that means is that, just like in citrus, coffee needs a little intense dry spell to get the very best flowering. If you have nice, even rains throughout, you don't get an intense flowering and you don't get an intense bearing. There is a lot of tree stock out there in good condition being cared for by competent farmers but haven't borne well this year," he pointed out.
In addition, there are some trees which have not been cared for because farmers were unable to afford to carry out pruning and other necessary work because of the late payment for coffee sold. Some farmers also told AgroGleaner that they were unwilling to carry out the necessary preparatory work for the new crop year, given the uncertainty about future payments. They have chosen to 'throw up" their fields and tend to other crops until they are assured of some stability in the coffee market.
Still, for Gentles, berry borer damage will be the most significant challenge, especially since the weather this year did not cooperate. "In the last three years what helped us is that the berry borer doesn't really like rain too much, so that October rain would have hampered their multiplication. This year we had a nice, even weather - not too much sun, no near misses with hurricanes, and what that means is that in combination with the farmers leaving up the fields we have increase in the berry borer population," said the Coffee Industry Board CEO.