West African Cocoa Harvests Seen Delayed on Weather to Crop Size

The third-biggest cocoa mid-crop on record in Ivory Coast and dry weather are fueling speculation the next harvest will be delayed in West Africa, the biggest growing region for the beans used to make chocolate.

Farmers in Ivory Coast are harvesting the mid-crop, the smaller of two annual harvests, and it’s estimated to be 440,000 metric tons, the third-biggest ever, the London-based International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) said. Cocoa in London yesterday climbed to a three-week high on speculation dry weather now in Ivory Coast and Ghana will push back the start of the next main crop season that officially starts in October.

“It hasn’t rained for about 20 days which is unusual for the season,” Olivier Abeyao, a farmer planting cocoa in 13 hectares (32 acres) in Abengourou, eastern Ivory Coast, said by phone yesterday. “The main harvest may be delayed if the rain doesn’t fall by mid-July.”

A large mid-crop means the trees suppressed early setting of the next main crop, according to Kevin Marcus, founder of the commodity weather consulting company Marcus Weather in Passaic, New Jersey. That slows the development of pods. Harvesting of the 2013-14 crop will probably start a month later than the usual mid-to-late September, he said.

“Rain has been below normal since June 10 in Ivory Coast and Ghana, Marcus said in a telephone interview on July 3. ‘‘The combination of a big mid-crop and a dry April resulted in a late start to the setting of the main crop.’’ The weather is dry in east central parts of Ivory Coast and Ghana, according to MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Rain Totals

Ivory Coast’s central-western Daloa region, which produces about 300,000 tons of cocoa a year, was dry from June 21-30, data from the National Meteorological Service showed. It usually gets 42 millimeters (1.7 inches) of rain at that time of year, the data show. The western region of Ghana, which accounts for 55 percent of output, was drier than last year. Rain in the towns of Sefwi Bekwai, Bogoso and Echi was 102.9 millimeters in June 11-20, data from the Ghana Meteorological Agency showed. Last year, rainfall was 343.6 millimeters.

The main crop may be ‘‘a little bit late because of the strong mid-crop but nothing of concern at this stage,’’ Laurent Pipitone, head of the economics and statistics unit at the ICCO in London, said by phone yesterday. Rain in May was ‘‘quite good,’’ he said.

A late start of the main crop means that there is still a large proportion of young pods, known as cherelles, in early July, Marcus said. The recent return of dry weather may cause young pods measuring 1 inch to 3 inches to wilt, as this is a period of high-moisture demand, he said.

‘‘It has rained only three days in June while it should be raining hard in this season,’’ said Gilles Bledou, head of a farming cooperative in Aboisso, in southern Ivory Coast. In Adiake, near Aboisso, rain was 20.2 millimeters in June 21-30 compared with 95.5 millimeters last year, according to the National Meteorological Service.

‘‘If there’s not enough rain, the output will be down and the harvest will be delayed. We’re not in a critical situation yet, but we hope it will rain more in July.”