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Ivory Coast's main cocoa crop harvest could start early Sept - farmers

ABIDJAN, Aug 13 (Reuters) - The harvest for Ivory Coast's main cocoa crop could start at the beginning of September, weeks earlier than last year because of heavy rain over the past month, farmers told Reuters on Tuesday.

Ivory Coast's main crop runs officially from October to March, though that can vary depending on the weather.

Rains were scarce in most cocoa growing regions last week, but soil moisture held up from previous weeks, leaving farmers relaxed.

"It is going well. Many pods are getting ripe already on the plantations. Harvests will start next month," said Salame Kone, who farms near the western region of Soubre, at the heart of the cocoa belt.

Many farmers expected an abundant output for the first three months of the main crop as plenty of big pods were seen on the trees.

However, some farmers worry a lack of sustained sunshine and damp could cause disease. In the center-western region of Daloa, which produces a quarter of Ivory Coast's national output, farmers said they hoped for more sunny spells for the crops to stay healthy.

In the western region of Man, farmers were worried about disease because of the heavy rain.

"It is the sun we don't have enough of. Otherwise, everything is going well on the trees because we have had a lot of dew," said Raphael Kouame, who farms near Daloa.

"Good quality beans will come out of the bush from next month onwards if there is enough sun in the coming weeks," said Kouame.

Data collected by Reuters showed rainfall in Daloa, including the region of Bouafle, was 13.9 millimeters (mm) last week, 11.3 mm below average.

Rainfall in Soubre, which includes the regions of Sassandra and San Pedro, was 2.1 millimeters mm, 12.9 mm below the five-year average.

Although rains were below average in the southern regions of Agboville and Divo, in the central regions of Bongouanou and Yamoussoukro and in the eastern region of Abengourou, farmers said the crop was on track for an early harvest.

Data collected by Reuters showed rainfall in Man, which includes Duekoue, was 46.3 mm last week, 10.4 mm above the five-year average.

Average temperatures ranged from 22.7-25.4 degrees Celsius. (Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Editing by Anna Pujol-Mazzini and Mark Potter)