Wires

Ivory Coast cocoa harvest picks up ahead of main crop season -farmers

ABIDJAN, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Cocoa harvesting has picked up in Ivory Coast as rains continue ahead of the October-to-March main crop, farmers said on Monday.

Rains were below average last week in most of Ivory Coast's cocoa-growing regions but trees were growing well, a week before the start of the new marketing season, farmers told Reuters.

Harvesting for the October-to-March main crop in the world's top cocoa producer started earlier than usual, but farmers are wary of selling their beans before the official start of season next week, when a new farmgate price will be set.

The need for adequate sunshine, which has been missing for months, continued to preoccupy farmers and could be crucial in determining the quality of the upcoming crop in the next few weeks, they said.

In the southern region of Divo, in the central regions of Bongouanou and Yamoussoukro, and in the western region of Man, rains were below average last week but farmers said growing conditions were good and the volume of pods harvested at the moment was higher than in the same period last year.

In the centre-western region of Daloa, which produces a quarter of Ivory Coast's national output, farmers said they needed more sun to improve growing conditions in plantations.

"It is important that we have warmth over a long period. Plantations are still very humid," said Rodolphe Kouame, who farms near Daloa.

Data collected by Reuters showed rainfall in the region of Daloa, which includes the region of Bouafle was 27.9 mm (1.1 inches) last week, 2.7 mm below the five-year average.

In the eastern region of Abengourou, known for the quality of its beans, farmers said without more frequent sunny spells, many young pods would turn yellow and some flowers could fall.

"The main crop is going to start off well. But we should be getting a lot of sunshine if we want good quality and pods developing well," said Remi Koffi, who farms near Abengourou.

Data collected by Reuters showed rainfall in Abengourou, which includes the region Aboisso, was 43.9 mm last week, 23 mm above the five-year average.

Similar conditions were reported in the southern region of Agboville, where rainfall was 33.9 mm last week, 15.3 mm above the five-year average.

In the western region of Soubre, at the heart of the cocoa belt, farmers said beans to sell from next week were piling up in the bush.

"We are entering the high harvesting period. Producers already have a lot of good quality beans to sell," said Koffi Kouame, who farms near Soubre.

Data collected by Reuters showed rainfall in Soubre, which includes the regions of San Pedro and Sassandra, was 19.8 mm last week, 0.2 mm above the five-year average.

Average temperatures ranged from 24.5 to 26.1 Celsius (76.2 to 78.9 Fahrenheit), data showed. (Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Editing by Anna Pujol-Mazzini and Lisa Shumaker)