SAO PAULO, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Forecasters say widespread rains will finally enter the southernmost part of 's coffee belt on Thursday evening, breaking a six-week dry spell, but the crop may already have suffered losses of up to 30 percent.

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With rains having already begun in the southern grain- producing state of do Sul, to the south of 's coffee belt, coffee futures prices slid in mid-day trade by nearly 2 percent. After traders first caught wind of potential damages from the drought in late January, prices had jumped 23 percent through Wednesday.

 is the world's largest producer of coffee, with its naturally cured arabica beans making up the backbone of most major commercial blends.

Somar meteorologist Graziela Gonçalves said rains were due to pass slowly through the heart of the coffee belt in Minas Gerais state bringing "significant rainfall" Feb. 15-17.

A report on rainfall volumes published Thursday afternoon by Somar showed light rains had already started to fall in northern Parana and southern Sao Paulo states, as the cold front pushed its way north, deeper into the coffee belt.

Over the past six weeks only trace amounts of isolated rainfall sprinkled the coffee belt, which had clearly caused losses to the crop currently maturing on trees and due to start harvest in May.