* Dry weather set to cut Brazil coffee crop for two seasons
* ICE raw sugar trades in wide 0.95-cent range
* Cocoa dealers worry about quality despite good weather (New throughout, updates closing prices; adds trader comment, second byline, NEW YORK dateline)
By Marcy Nicholson and Nigel Hunt
NEW YORK/LONDON, March 10 (Reuters) - Arabica coffee prices on ICE climbed to a two-year high in light volume on Monday after top grower Brazil’s parched coffee belt received less weekend rain than expected, raising the prospect of a 2014/15 global deficit.
Liffe robusta coffee climbed in sympathy, reaching a one-year high, while raw sugar on ICE Futures U.S. turned firm. Cocoa was up a shade after nearing 2-1/2-year highs.
The cost of green arabica beans has surged more than 80 percent since the start of the year in its biggest rally since mid-1994, boosted by concerns that dry weather in Brazil will not only cut the size of the 2014/15 crop but also curtail production in 2015/16.
A Reuters poll published on Friday indicated forecasts for Brazil’s 2014/15 coffee crop fell more than 10 percent to a median result of 48.9 million (60-kg) bags.
“Less-than-expected rains really caused that market to take off this morning,” said one U.S. dealer, adding that the buying appeared to be primarily speculative.
“If it doesn’t rain again, then there’s no reason to step in front of this market until the forecast starts to change.”
Brazilian meteorologist Somar forecast low cumulative rainfall and higher temperatures in most coffee-growing regions this week, with no significant precipitation expected until at least March 19.
“Rains over the weekend may have eased dryness slightly, but overall drought conditions remain and drier trends through the next 10 days will be less favorable, especially in (the Brazilian state of) Minas Gerais,” said Maryland-based MDA Weather Services in a Monday report.
May arabica futures on ICE closed up 6.55 cents, or 3.3 percent, at $2.0340 per lb after earlier peaking at $2.0685, its highest level since February 2012.
“An arabica deficit in 2014/15, compounded by the unquestionable knock-on impact on the 2015/16 season, given it is an ‘off’ (year) and therefore potential deficit season anyway, would be fuel enough to increase the chances of the 300 cents/lb level,” Andrea Thompson, an analyst with CoffeeNetwork, part of INTL FC Stone, said in a market note.
Prices for robusta, traditionally processed into instant coffee but increasingly used in roasted blends, has failed to keep pace with arabicas during the recent rally but still climbed to a one-year high on Monday. This has caused its discount to arabica KC-LRC2=R to widen to $1.08 per lb, the biggest since March 2012, from $1.03.
May Liffe robusta coffee settled up $48, or 2.3 percent, at $2,147 per tonne, a one-year peak.
Sugar prices turned higher, trading in a wide range of nearly 1 cent, with supplies remaining ample despite some reduction in the expected size of the crop in Brazil, which is also the top producer of the sweetener.
May raw sugar futures on ICE closed up 0.21 cent, or 1.2 percent, at 18.22 cents a lb.
“While further downside pressure is possible in the very near term (owing to a strong Northern Hemisphere crush), weakening global production economics and increasing competition from Brazilian ethanol production should present increasing resistance to lower prices,” Morgan Stanley said in a report.
Brazil’s main center-south sugar cane crop, about to start crushing, should drop by 1 percent from the current season to 590 million tonnes and yield 33 million tonnes of sugar, local commodities risk analysts Archer Consulting said.
May white sugar futures on Liffe rose $2.70, or 0.6 percent, to finish at $478.10 per tonne.
Cocoa futures edged higher on concern about prospects for the mid-crop in top grower Ivory Coast despite some rains as the country moves out of its dry season. ]
ICE May cocoa futures closed up $3, or 0.1 percent, at $2,984 per tonne as the market moved closer to a 2-1/2-year high of $3,002 set last month. May cocoa futures on Liffe rose 4 pounds, or 0.2 percent, to end at 1,860 pounds a tonne. (Editing by Susan Fenton, David Evans and Jonathan Oatis)