Honduras coffee crops safe after storms, roads hit

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Monday, 27 September 2010 03:49 GMT

* Coffee crop losses not expected to be significant

* Damaged roads may hurt bean collection

* Sugar cane fields flooded after heavy rains

TEGUCIGALPA, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Honduras, one of Central America&${esc.hash}39;s top coffee producers, said its crops largely survived the weekend&${esc.hash}39;s heavy rains from Tropical Storm Matthew, but damaged roads could slow the harvest next month.

Since the crop losses were not expected to be significant in volumes, coffee dealers said the storm did not impact arabica coffee futures trading on ICE Futures U.S. on Monday.

Coffee prices soared to a 13-year top earlier this month, underpinned by fund buying and tight global supplies of washed arabica beans ahead of Colombia and Central America&${esc.hash}39;s upcoming growing seasons.

"(The heavy rain) just doesn&${esc.hash}39;t mean anything today. It&${esc.hash}39;s going to delay the shipment of coffee. We need coffee but we&${esc.hash}39;re not there yet," said one New York coffee dealer.

Matthew sparked floods and knocked over trees as it passed over Central America and southern Mexico on Saturday and Sunday, killing two people.

The region has already been battered by months of heavier-than-usual rains that have flooded sugar cane fields, blocked roads and collapsed bridges connecting remote coffee farms.

The coffee cherry picking season begins in October and if infrastructure damage is not fixed soon, growers will have trouble transporting workers to fields and moving their coffee for export, farmers and exporters say.

"We have a disaster in the road system in the coffee growing areas," Asterio Reyes, the head of the Honduran coffee association told Reuters in an interview late on Sunday.

"If the roads to farms are not repaired in the next 15 to 20 days we will not be able to transport (beans) to collection stations. The losses will be enormous if immediate action is not taken," Reyes said, adding the sector was in talks with the president to resolve the situation.

"If we don&${esc.hash}39;t cut the coffee on time, it can ferment ... and the quality goes down so it can&${esc.hash}39;t be exported," he said.

The actual coffee trees were largely spared, however, he said. "The plants, as of now, have not been significantly damaged," he said.

Too much moisture can hurt coffee trees if they develop disease or fungus.

Sugar losses might be serious because cane fields are still flooded from earlier rains.

Guatemala -- Central America&${esc.hash}39;s biggest sugar exporter -- and Honduras have already 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. [ID:nN21175664] (Reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa and Marcy Nicholson in New York; Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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