Storms destroy sugar crops, damage coffee in Mexico and Central America

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Pastor Dale Morgan

Sep 21, 2010, 9:00:23 PM9/21/10
Perilous Times and Climate Change

Storms destroy sugar crops, damage coffee in Mexico and Central America

Tue Sep 21, 2010 9:43pm GMT

 By Mica Rosenberg and Sarah Grainger

 MEXICO CITY/GUATEMALA CITY, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Months of
heavy rains across Mexico and Central America have ruined
sugar cane fields and damaged roads and bridges essential for
the upcoming sugar and coffee harvests.

 An active hurricane season battered the region with six
named storms in the Pacific and 11 in the Atlantic, including
Hurricane Karl that drenched the sugar- and coffee-growing
state of Veracruz last weekend, killing 15 people.

 Mexico is trying to recover from two years of record low
sugar harvests that forced the government to open import quotas
just as sugar prices were soaring to record highs.

 Many sugar producers in Central America exported more to
Mexico last year to help cover the shortfall.

 Mexico expects to produce more than 5 million tonnes of
sugar in the 2010/11 harvest season, which begins in November,
and the sector says more sugar imports will not be necessary.

 But bad weather might crimp the industry's forecasts.

 Mexico sugar production could fall by between 100,000 and
150,000 tonnes after Karl and earlier heavy rains in the
southern states of Oaxaca and Tabasco flooded around 148,000
acres (60,000 hectares) acres of cane fields.

 Carlos Blackaller, who heads the national cane growers
union, told Reuters on Tuesday some fields were destroyed while
others saw only partial damages. In some cases excess water can
lower the sugar content in cane when it is milled.

 He said the estimates were still preliminary because parts
of Veracruz are still inaccessible due to floods.

 Coffee farmers in Veracruz, however, were largely spared
from hurricane and storm damage, Gabriel Barreda, a coffee
sector leader in the state, said.

 Flood-hit areas in Mexico's second most important
coffee-producing state were far from coffee farms and while
some roads were damaged the infrastructure was expected to be
repaired before the harvest begins in October, Barreda said.
Mexico sees a slightly larger coffee harvest of 4.6 million
60-kg bags in 2010/11.


 In Central America, the wet weather began at the end of May
when Tropical Storm Agatha hit Guatemala and El Salvador. Then
days of continuous rain earlier this month led to deadly
landslides in Guatemala bringing the country to a standstill as
major highways were blocked by tons of mud and rocks. More than
260 people have died this storm season in Guatemala alone.

 "We have spent 109 days here recently with a total
emergency in the country following a tropical storm ... it
didn't stop raining until nine days ago," Guatemalan President
Alvaro Colom told the U.N. General Assembly on Monday.

 Sugar farmers in Guatemala -- Central America's biggest
producer -- and Honduras cut their estimates for production in
the upcoming 2010/11 harvest by around 5 percent after rains
reduced sunlight and increased the likelihood of pests.

 Nicaragua's National Sugar Producer's Committee said it was
too early to estimate the next harvest but losses could be as
high as 15 percent.

 "With an excess of water, the cane grows but there's little
sugar," Mario Amador, head of the committee, told Reuters. "If
October and November are dry, with little rain, the cane could
recuperate and production might not be so bad."

 Central America's six countries produced 4.286 million
tonnes of sugar in the 2009/10 harvest.

 Coffee farmers are worried road blockages and damage to
infrastructure on farms will delay the harvest as seasonal
workers struggle to reach plantations and harvested beans have
trouble getting to port for export.

 "If we don't have access roads to the farms repaired by the
end of October or beginning of November, we could lose a
significant amount of the harvest," Asterio Reyes, president of
Honduras' coffee growers association, said.
 (Additional reporting by Ivan Castro in Managua, Helen Popper
in New York and Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa; Editing by
David Gregorio)

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