In any normal year I would be visiting Colombia several times between July and December. This, as we all know, is not a normal year, and not just because I’m grounded in Oslo.
Impact of the pandemic on the harvest
The global pandemic impacted production of coffee in Colombia in various ways. Firstly, Colombia was under very strict and rigorous lockdown for five months which prevented travel between municipalities anywhere except Antioquia. This exception was to facilitate the coffee harvest, as farms in Antioquia are much larger than many other areas and depend on a larger workforce. Farms across Nariño, Huila and Tolima are smaller, but they still need help during the harvest. There was a dire shortage of pickers because workers could not travel to these farms. There have also been restrictions on the movement of field staff who would normally offer support to producers, in particular on drying, but also on general quality protocols.
Prices this harvest
The internal market in Colombia has continued to sustain high prices throughout the year. The daily price set by the National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC) has been higher than our minimum price for quality coffee, which until this year was considered a very good premium compared to the local price.
In more detail, the FNC daily prices have fluctuated around 1 million COP/carga (125kg of parchment) and up to 1.2 million COP/carga. Meanwhile the USD to COP has steadily dropped since mid March when it was at around COP 4160 / 1 USD, and has fluctuated between COP 3500 to COP 3800/1 USD.
What all of this means is that coffee in Colombia has become more expensive. Competition internally means that for even very standard coffees, one needs to pay as much as used to be paid for better qualities. Plus the exchange rate movement means COP now costs us more in USD.
Qualities in 2020
There are many great producers, there are many producers who take pride in the work they do, who set out to achieve a certain standard regardless of external circumstances. I believe we work with many producers like this.
However producing coffee is a tough business, and farmers must maximise their earnings at every opportunity. This is particularly important to keep in mind for producers that don’t have existing relationships with a buyer who consistently provides a market and premiums for that producer’s coffee. The current daily prices are already at a premium for most producers, and farmers don’t need to make the additional quality investments to earn these currently high prices. Many feel it is better to rush the processing and take advantage of the current prices, than spend time developing quality that might be sold for less should the internal price fall. This means it is harder for buyers to find the really great coffees.
Fortunately we work consistently with the same producers or groups of producers who continue to sell to us. We have found many great lots, but it has taken more effort. We must carefully assess a lot of sample material and closely measure how well coffees have been dried.
Currently in harvest
Our focus in Colombia at this moment is in Antioquia which is in the middle of its primary harvest. Farms in this region are traditionally bigger, and production more stable. In particular this year the weather has been quite a lot cooler than normal, meaning a slower maturation of cherries on the farms and better sugar development. We have seen this on the cupping table, with even early samples showing improved qualities compared to last year.
We have good availability of 50-100 bag lots at $5.50-5.80/kg FOB, for full 275 bag shipments. These coffees are from communities of producers in smaller regions surrounding the town of Ciudad Bolivar. These can be shipped from January through March, depending on when selection is finalised.
Reach out to us if you need samples.