Sat | May 26, 2018

Double hit to coffee production

Published:Wednesday | March 27, 2013 | 12:00 AM
The round yellow spots are an indication of coffee leaf rust infestation. - Photo by Christopher Serju

Norman Grant, president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society, says the passage of Hurricane Sandy and the outbreak of the coffee leaf rust disease have cost the coffee sector 35 per cent of its production.

The reduced output, he said, amounts to about US$5 million of lost revenue.

The leaf rust disease, in particular, could result in additional loss for future crops, said Grant, who is also the chief executive officer of Mavis Bank Coffee Factory.

Head of the Coffee Industry Board, Christopher Gentles, said the downturn in coffee performance is primarily linked to Hurricane Sandy, which hit Jamaica last October. He said theimpact of the leaf rust will show up more in the new crop year.

The disease has so far reduced output by an estimated 10,000 boxes of beans, but further declines are expected, Gentles told Wednesday Business.

The box count up to February 2013 was 150,000, which is trending approximately 25 per cent below the 204,000 boxes delivered at the same time last year.

It is expected that another 25,000 or 30,000 boxes will be collected by end of the crop in July 2013, Gentles said.

The mid-season update is in line with projections, which noted earlier that the rust disease - identified in all major producing parishes, particularly farms at or below 3,000 feet - if left unchecked could result in "loss of trees, reduced output from the farms and, ultimately, up to 30 per cent of the value of the current crop or US$4.2 million in export earnings".

Coffee exports earned US$18.1 million in crop year ending July 2012.

Some 15 to 20 per cent of the crop was estimated to have been lost in the current crop year as a result of Hurricane Sandy alone.

Grant noted that the Ministry of Agriculture, Coffee Industry Board, and members of the Jamaica Coffee Exporters Association have implemented a programme to combat the coffee leaf rust disease by providing the farmers with fungicide to spray their fields.

"This is based on funding of J$8 million from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and carried out by the coffee dealers," he said.

At Mavis Bank, programmes being implemented at an estimated cost of J$4 million include dispatching mist blowers to spray Blue Mountain coffee areas.

The Mavis Bank programme includes distribution of agro-chemicals, such as Sulcox and Topsin, and granular Folia fertiliser, to farmers.

Grant said that early payments of J$60 million to some 3,000 farms that supply Mavis Bank Coffee Factory would aid in the purchase of plant nutrition and fungicide to control the leaf rust disease.