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World’s oranges, coffee at risk as Brazil runs out of water

While a dry spell is typical for this time of year in Brazil, it’s expected to last longer than usual, adding to concerns.

A worker harvests coffee on a farm in Minas Gerais state, Brazil. (Photo: Bloomberg)

Rainfall was disastrously low for many areas in Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais from January to April, said John Corbett, Chief Executive Officer at aWhere Inc. The worst hit areas received less than half of normal precipitation, at a critical time when coffee plants need moisture for the beans to grow. It is also a period when the soil stores water to cope with the dry season.

That came on top of adverse drier-than-normal conditions in some parts last year, notably in Sao Paulo and Parana, said Paul Markert, meteorologist for Maxar Technologies Inc. in Maryland.

While a dry spell is typical for this time of year in Brazil, it’s expected to last longer than usual, adding to concerns. Regular rains will return to the region between October and November, instead of September, said Celso Oliveira, a meteorologist at Somar Meteorologia.

About 30% of Brazil’s orange crop and 15% of arabica coffee fields are irrigated.

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“The levels of rivers and lakes has been very concerning,” said Regis Ricco, director at Minas Gerais-based RR Consultoria Rural.

Francisco Sergio de Assis, a coffee grower in Monte Carmelo, a municipality in the Cerrado region of Minas Gerais, started irrigating his fields a month early, and doesn’t think his water reservoirs will last if it doesn’t rain by September.

The situation is becoming critical for orange groves. Emerson Fachini, an orange farmer who cultivates 45 hectares in Palestina municipality in Sao Paulo state, said he’s had irrigation systems turned on for most of the time since January.

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“Water reservoirs are drying up, depleted just ahead of the dry season,” Gilberto Tozatti, of Sao Paulo-based GCONCI-Group Citrus Consulting, said by phone. “The situation is affecting most of Sao Paulo state and still harming next season’s crop.”

First published on: 19-05-2021 at 10:16:09 am
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