Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

A severe winter drought in the North China Plain may put wheat production at risk

Bangkok, Thailand, 08 Feb 2011 -- GIEWS Special Alert 330 China 

Substantially below-normal rainfall since October 2010 in the North China Plain, the country’s main winter wheat producing area, puts at risk the winter wheat crop to be harvested later in the month of June.

Low precipitation resulting in diminished snow cover has reduced the protection of dormant wheat plants against frost kill temperatures (usually below -18°C) during winter months from December to February.

Low precipitation and thin snow cover have also jeopardized the soil moisture availability for the postdormant growing period. Thus, the ongoing drought is potentially a serious problem.

The main affected provinces include Shandong, Jiangsu, Henan, Hebei and Shanxi, which together represent about 60 percent of the area planted and two-thirds of the national wheat production. According to official estimates some 5.16 million hectares out of the total of about 14 million hectares under winter wheat may have been affected in these provinces. The drought has reportedly affected some 2.57 million people and 2.79 million livestock due to the shortages of drinking water.

So far there have been some positive developments, such as the relatively mild temperatures, particularly the absence of frost kill temperatures, and the lower than average sub-zero temperature days. This combined with increased supplementary irrigation made available by the Government is likely to compensate to some extent the negative impact of low snow fall and low moisture availability. However, adverse weather, particularly extreme cold temperatures could still devastate yields. The Government has allocated some USD 15 billion to support farmers’ incomes and subsidize the costs of diesel, fertilizer and pesticide.

This drought in north China seems to be putting further pressure on wheat prices, which have been rising rapidly in the last few months. In January 2011 the national average retail price of wheat flour rose by more than 8 percent compared to two months earlier and stood at 16 percent higher than a year earlier.

Although the current winter drought has, so far, not affected winter wheat productivity, the situation could become critical if a spring drought follows the winter one and/or the temperatures in February fall below normal.

FAO/GIEWS will continue monitoring closely the potential weather hazards and wheat crop development.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact EST-GIEWS, FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.

Please note that this Special Report is available on the Internet as part of the FAO World Wide Web at the following URL address: http://www.fao.org/giews/