ABIDJAN, March 6 (Reuters) - Dry weather in top cocoa grower Ivory Coast has caused a sharp drop in bean size and will delay the start of the April-to-September mid-crop by nearly two months, exporters and merchants said on Friday.
Bean size is determined by counting the number of beans per 100 grammes of cocoa, known as the bean count. Ivory Coast's marketing board, the Coffee and Cocoa Council (CCC), has fixed a ceiling of 105 beans per 100 grammes for beans destined for export.
Average bean counts have increased from 100 to 105 beans per 100 grammes to 120 to 130 beans per 100 grammes over the past several weeks.
Bean size generally decreases during the mid-crop and the bulk of the harvest is typically purchased by local grinders who process them into cocoa products.
"We've never seen a bean count of 120 to 130 during the main crop, even if we are now towards the end," said Hamed Amer, CEO of the SAF Cacao/Choco Ivoire group. "Our suppliers are saying that it will get even worse during the mid-crop."
Excessive acidity in cocoa beans arriving at the ports of Abidjan and San Pedro have already led to high rates of rejections beginning in late January.
Merchants said small bean size was adding to the amount of cocoa being turned away from ports.
"I had to stop buying in the bush because there are only small beans that the exporters don't want," said Bakary Diomande, a middleman in the western town of Meagui.
Ivory Coast is in its mid-November to March dry season, which this year has been marked by very little rainfall, high temperatures and unusually harsh Harmattan desert winds.
Exporters are predicting a smaller mid-crop than the one that contributed to last season's record crop. The International Cocoa Organization is forecasting Ivory Coast's total 2014/15 production to reach 1.72 million tonnes, down from 1.74 million tonnes last season.
The dry conditions will also delay the start of the mid-crop harvest, exporters and farmers said.
"The mid-crop pods are already on the trees, but we are seeing practically nothing of that for the moment, which is a worry," said the director of an Abidjan-based exporter.
"We don't expect much to arrive in the ports in April and May. It's only in June that it will really get started." (Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Mark Potter)