* Most regions have seen weeks of heavy rainfall
* Seen as aiding the development of new flowers
* Could provoke black pod disease in pods
By Loucoumane Coulibaly
ABIDJAN, June 30 (Reuters) - Heavy rains last week in most of Ivory Coast’s main cocoa growing regions has aided the development of the next main crop harvest but threatened to provoke outbreaks of disease that could damage late mid-crop beans, farmers said on Monday.
The world’s top cocoa grower is in the midst of its April-to-September mid-crop and is on track for record production this season. With harvesting expected to decline from mid-July, interest of the weather is now turning toward the next main crop due to open in October.
World prices hit their highest level in nearly three years last week on concerns that growing demand for chocolate will result in a cocoa supply shortfall in the coming years.
ICE September cocoa nudged up to a peak of $3,142 and later traded flat at $3,135 on Monday. Liffe September cocoa firmed by 1 pound, or 0.1 percent, to trade at 1,959 pounds a tonne.
Ivorian farmers said the high humidity of last week would favour good flowering for the next main crop. However, they worried that pods expected to be harvested before October were vulnerable to fungal black pod disease.
In the coastal regions of San Pedro and Sassandra, farmers reported heavy rain had flooded plantations and damaged roads.
“I’ve never seen rain like this. It’s good for the main crop but not for the end of the mid-crop,” said Labbe Zoungrana, who farms near San Pedro. “We’ll have losses for the mid-crop. Lots of pods will rot.”
In the southern region of Aboisso, farmers said the rains had prevented them from accessing their plantations.
“There will be plenty of flowers for the main crop if the sun comes out in July,” said farmer Etienne Yao. “But for the rest of the mid-crop we won’t be able to properly dry the beans. There will be a lot of mould.”
In the western region of Soubre, in the heart of the cocoa belt, an analyst reported 86 mm of rains, up from 42 mm the previous week.
“The rains are worrying us. Many trees have fallen and the rivers are overflowing their banks,” said farmer Salam Kone, who farms near Soubre.
Growing conditions were better in the western region of Daloa - responsible for a quarter of the country’s output - where farmers reported several downpours mixed with sunshine.
“There is enough rain and sun. We think we’ll have a strong finish to the mid-crop and also a good start to the main crop,” said Desire M’Bra, who farms near Daloa.
Similar growing conditions were reported in the eastern region of Abengourou.
In the southern region of Divo, farmers said a good mix of sunshine and rainfall would maintain high bean quality through to the end of the mid-crop.
“There is lots of moisture, but the good sun we’re getting will produce big beans,” said Divo farmer Amadou Diallo. (Editing by Joe Bavier, editing by David Evans)