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November Coffee Origin Focus: Chumbinho in Brazil

Falling ‘chumbinho’. What are they? Why does it matter? 

In this month’s Origin Focus, we are going to look at Brazil. Specifically, how the November weather patterns in Brazil have, in some regions, prompted concerns over falling chumbinho. A big thank you to Guy of Fazenda Paraiso, Bruna of Costa Café, Vivian of SMC, Baba of Cocarive and Gina from DRW for their insights. 

First, what is ‘chumbinho’? For the Portuguese speakers out there, I would recommend reading this Instagram post from producer and agronomist, Guy Carvalho. Our attempt at a translation here: Coffee tree flowering in Brazil generally happens between September and November and may occur 3 or 4 times during this period. Each branch of the plant becomes populated with small bundles of a jasmine scented white bouquet. These flowers result in the emergence of the chumbinho, a small fruit that will develop over 6 to 8 months, transforming into the coffee bean. Chumbinho is one of the most sensitive phases to heat, drought and stress and is critical in determining the productivity of a coffee tree… 

Phenological scale of the coffee tree at the time of flowering. The peak of flowering lasts three days (Source: Pezzopane et. al., 2003)

And why are falling chumbinho relevant right now? If you have followed our recent market reports, you will have noticed erratic movements in the C market. Some of this movement has been caused by speculation on Brazilian weather patterns and the potential impacts on the 2024/25 crop. Vivian of SMC notes that “in recent years it has been common for Brazilian coffee growers to face frustrations related to the harvests, mainly due to climatic factors. This could be suffering from frost, severe drought, widespread hailstorms, or facing above-average temperatures”. However, even within this context, “under the strong influence of the El Nino phenomenon and other factors, Brazil’s arabica coffee-growing regions have seen highly irregular rainfall so far, as well as temperatures far above historical averages.” 

Temperature chart for Brazil in mid November, 2023

Costa Café, one of our export partners based in Pinhal, have started to see the effects of this adverse weather. Bruna Costa explains: “We are having a lot of rain, which is excellent. However, at the same time, we have very high temperatures. This is causing a thermal shock in the tree and therefore reports of dropping chumbinho throughout our region.” This sentiment is echoed by the agronomist at SMC in Cerrado: “Recently we have noticed an excessive fall of chumbinho in a few areas. This phase is one of the most sensitive to heat and drought. There are many factors that can contribute to this situation, which can be something physiological or even natural, as the plants readjust the number of fruits that each rosette can hold.” 

With the help of Guy and SMC, let’s get science-y. High temperatures and periods of drought can lead to severe stress in coffee trees. This can cause a disturbance in abscisic acid levels (a plant’s hormonal substance) generating a hormonal imbalance. At high levels, this imbalance may prompt cell wall degradation, creating weak points in the petiole region (the part that connects the fruit with the branch). Heavy rains cause water to move into the xylem of the tree and through the plant’s absorption pathways entering the fruit at great pressure. Given the point of weakness in the petiole caused by the extreme heat, the petiole can break, leading to the fall of the chumbinho. 

Chumbinho and flowers

Despite a seemingly perfect storm, it is too early in the season to panic. Guy notes that a drop of between 10% – 15% is considered acceptable each crop. Bruna suggests “it’s hard to tell if current levels of falling chumbinho will result in a high percentage or crop failure or if the drop will fall into the normal parameters come January.” SMC agree: “it is still too early to predict something concrete and even earlier to talk about figures. However, the combination of high temperatures and irregular rainfall will affect the potential of the crop somehow.” In the Mantiqueira region, characterised by higher altitudes and undulating terrain, the dropping of chumbinho has not yet caused concern. We asked Baba of Cocarive for his take: “We haven’t had any problems yet, bro! Weather is hot which means maturation will happen faster and perhaps bring an early harvest. It is raining a lot which is nice… Another flower coming soon! January and February should bring more news on climate impact.” 

What next? For now, the problem of falling chumbinho is yet to hit the mainstream. Until we reach 2024, the full extent of the phenomena is difficult to quantify. For some producers, consequences will be mitigated by good historical crop management practices: Guy notes that “a deep and developed root system and a good root-to-shoot relationship… minimises these physiological disturbances.” For many, recent weather and resulting falling chumbinho could cause a notable loss in harvest for the 2024/25 crop. With increasingly extreme climatic conditions, the demands and challenges facing coffee producers are more varied than ever. To close, a pertinent quote from the lead agronomist at SMC: “The scenario of coffee growing and agriculture in recent years has shown us that, in the face of instability and uncertainty regarding climate issues, we must always seek to put into practice sustainable technologies and management that can improve the well-being and the balance of the plants, thus reducing the external effects.” 

Fingers crossed the chumbinho stop falling. 

Chumbinho on floor