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‘Close call’ for the world’s largest coffee-producing country – and coffee lovers everywhere

By John Roach, AccuWeather staff writer
July 11, 2019, 3:24:35 PM EDT

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Brazil's Coffee Belt is currently experiencing an unprecedented hot streak, so to speak, that’s helping to keep your morning coffee cheap.

Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee, churning out 5.7 billion pounds of coffee a year. That’s 25% of the world’s supply; Brazil’s output is greater than the numbers 3 through 7 coffee-producing countries combined.

The country is currently experiencing an unusually long frost-free stretch. During each decade of the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, Brazil would experience two to three moderate or severe frosts that would lead to shortages and cause coffee prices worldwide to rise.

A frost in Brazil has far-reaching effects since it could reduce or completely annihilate much of the world supply in a matter of one day, according to the website CoffeeResearch.org.

“It could be just one night below freezing – especially if the temperature got into the upper 20s – and it would do a lot of damage,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Jason Nicholls. “Coffee is more sensitive to cold than the citrus crop in Florida.”

However, Brazil has not had a severe frost since 1994. In those 25 years, it had one moderate frost in 2000 and barely negligible localized reports of frost in 2018 and then again this past weekend.

“This was a close call,” said Nicholls. “Curitiba got to 30 degrees and the main coffee area is just 30 or 40 miles away. If it had been a severe frost, it would affect next year’s crop because they’re harvesting this year’s crop now. And because Brazil is the world’s number 1 producer by far, a severe frost would be a really big deal.”

Coffee plantations cover about 27,000 square kilometers of Brazil with the majority located in three southeastern states where the climate and temperature are ideal for coffee production (Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo and Parana).

Nicholls thinks part of the reason for Brazil’s current warm stretch is because “the water temperatures off the Brazilian coast have been consistently warmer than they were 30 to 40 years ago,” he said. “All you have to do is modify the air masses a little bit, and you don’t have as strong of a frost threat anymore.”

As a result, Brazil’s frost-free phase could continue even beyond this season.

“It’s possible last weekend was the only risk this season,” Nicholls said. “The core of the freeze season is early June to mid-August, so we’re halfway through.

“There’s nothing coming in the next two weeks, so then it’d be two-thirds of the winter season without any damage…” Nicholls said. “And I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon, at least not in the next few years.”

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