What an El Niño Weather Pattern Can Mean for Coffee Production


Many of us in the coffee world are concerned that El Niño could have a disrupting effect on coffee production. When rains are extreme, besides loss of crops roads become difficult, and the harvest can be reduced or lost. Here’s a guest post from Stu Macleod of Vournas Coffee Trading in California:

Recent weather headlines have screamed about a potential “Godzilla El Niño” weather pattern affecting winter weather for the United States. Similar headlines began popping up in coffee related websites, not regarding U.S. weather but rather how an El Niño could impact coffee growing and coffee production throughout the world. What is El Niño and why does it matter?

El Niño is a tropical weather event in the Eastern Pacific Ocean that can increase rain and snowfall totals in the Southwest U.S. Warmer ocean waters in the Eastern Pacific redirect the jet stream winds southward and eastward as it moves through the U.S. Eastern Pacific ocean waters are currently 1.2 degrees Centigrade higher than normal; this has alerted NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to declare a “strong” rating for an El Niño weather pattern for the winter of 2015. This strong rating has occurred 5 times since 1950 so is a relatively uncommon event.

Historically, the El Niño weather pattern has also influenced rain and weather conditions in other countries. Central America, Brazil and Colombian coffee growing regions can receive less than normal rainfall during an El Niño leading to drought and decrease coffee production. Indonesia can also be affected; in a recent letter to their investors, Rabobank highlighted the likelihood of El Niño bringing unusually dry weather to South East Asia. Most Indonesian specialty coffee farmers do not use irrigation and depend on rainfall to water their trees. This could result in lower than normal coffee production from Sumatra, New Guinea and Java.

What does it all mean for us? As usual there are events outside of our power that control coffee prices and availability.

Peru has been bracing for extreme weather due to the El Niño warming in the Pacific Ocean, and working to fortify communities that are frequently flooded during heavy rain seasons. This year has seen so many landslides and washouts that many roads have not yet recovered. Many fear that any more extreme rainfall will isolate some villages for weeks at a time.

Time will tell what effects we’ll see, and how coffee will fare.