FAO/GIEWS - Food Outlook, April 1998

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Prospects for the 1998 winter wheat crop in Asia are mixed. In China, winter wheat has continued to break dormancy across the North China Plain. Rainfall in the major winter wheat growing areas has generally been below normal and drought conditions are reported to have affected some 15 million hectares of farm land in the north of the country. A reduced wheat crop of about 110 million tonnes is anticipated, down from the record 123 million tonnes last year. In India, production prospects for wheat are reported to be quite satisfactory despite late planting in some regions due to heavy rains. In Pakistan, where planting was also delayed due to adverse weather last autumn, the area sown to wheat is estimated to have increased by about 2 percent compared to last year. However, recent heavy rains and flash floods are expected to have had an adverse effect on yields and the final outcome will still depend largely on the weather in the coming weeks. In Bangladesh, adequate water supplies were reported in major producing areas, and a good wheat crop matching last year's record of about 1.45 million tonnes is anticipated.

In Afghanistan, prospects for the winter crops remain uncertain due to ongoing fighting and the recent earthquake which hit the northern provinces which account for some 40 percent of the country's irrigated cereal and about 53 percent of its rainfed area. Also in Iraq, the outlook for the winter crops remains uncertain due to below-average rainfall and shortages of essential inputs. In Saudi Arabia, despite concerns of outbreaks of locust swarms, prospects for the 1998 crop to be harvested in April/May are favourable due to good rainfall during the growing season.

Prospects for the region's 1998 winter coarse grains crop, about to be harvested, are favourable. Land preparation for planting the 1998 main coarse grains crop is underway in parts, although the bulk of crops will only be planted at the onset of the south-west monsoon in June.

In the southern hemisphere and the equatorial belt of Asia, the 1998 paddy production season is well advanced, although delayed planting in some countries will lead to a late harvest. In Indonesia, growing conditions are reported to be generally favourable for the development of the main season crop. However, planting of this crop, which normally starts in October/November, was delayed by up to 10 weeks in some places in 1997 due to lack of moisture affecting much of the traditional rainfed rice areas. As a result, harvesting will be delayed by several weeks and output is expected to be reduced.

The first official indications point to a crop of less than 48 million tonnes in 1998, which would be lower than the already drought-reduced crop of 49 million tonnes estimated for 1997. In Malaysia, harvesting of the main 1998 paddy crop is underway; output is expected to be slightly down from the estimated production of 2.1 million tonnes in 1997 due to reduced plantings. In Sri Lanka, total paddy output is anticipated to expand by about 27 percent from 2.8 million tonnes in 1997. Harvesting of the Maha crop, which is the main season crop, is underway and following generally favourable growing conditions a significant increase in output is expected. The Yala season is expected to start early since reservoirs are full.


Wheat Coarse grains Rice (paddy) Total 1/

1997 1998 1997 1998 1997 1998 1997 1998

( . . . . . . . million tonnes . . . . . )
Asia 248.6 237 197.1 208 521.6
Africa 15.5 20.5 77.0 82 16.8
Central America 3.4 4 28.6 27 2.1
South America 20.0 18.0 62.5 62 180
North America 93.0 88 291.0 300 8.1
Europe 132.5 134 174.6 165 2.6
CIS 81.1 76 70.2 65 1.3
Oceania 18.9 17 9.9 11 1.4
WORLD 612.9 595 911.0 920 571.8 565 2/ 2 095.7 2 080
Developing countries 284.5 276 355.6 371 545.9 539 1186.0 1 186
Developed countries 328.4 319 555.4 549 25.9 26 909.7 894

1/ Total cereal, including rice in paddy terms. 2/ Highly tentative.

In the northern hemisphere, China's 1998 paddy season has begun with the planting of early rice. Heavy rains in the southern parts of the country have affected some of the crop but weather conditions at this time of the year are normally variable. Output from Thailand’s second rice crop could be higher than originally expected as high prices encouraged farmers to plant more land to rice despite the government’s warning of a potential shortage of irrigation water. However, temperatures have been unseasonably high since February, and with low reservoir levels, concern about the potential impact on production is mounting. Harvesting of this crop begins in late April. In the Philippines, preliminary indications suggest a 13 percent drop in this year’s secondary crop output to about 4.2 million tonnes, reflecting reduced plantings due to lack of adequate water for irrigation. Harvesting of the winter-spring crop is underway in some parts of southern Viet Nam, but crop loss could occur due to the dry conditions that have prevailed for several weeks. In India, the Rabi crop is in the heading stage and the growing conditions are reported to be favourable. In Bangladesh, harvesting of the Boro crop is expected to begin in April. In Japan, planting of the 1998 rice crop has started. For this season, the area planted is likely to be less reflecting an increase of 176 000 hectares from the previous year in the diversion programme, which is set at 963 000 hectares, and a cut in support prices for paddy by 2.5 percent to Yen 263 per kilogramme.


NORTHERN AFRICA: Prospects for the subregion’s 1998 wheat crops, to be harvested from June, are generally favourable and a substantial increase in output from last year’s poor harvest is anticipated if normal weather prevails in the coming months. In Algeria, where plantings in central and western areas were delayed by insufficient precipitation at the beginning of the growing season, rains have since improved substantially. In Morocco, significant rains continue to benefit crop development and reservoirs are at over 80 percent of their capacity. The area sown to wheat is reported to be above average and production is expected to double from last year’s poor result. Timely rains are expected to increase cereal production in Tunisia. In Egypt, where the wheat crop is largely irrigated, growing conditions are satisfactory. Aggregate output of coarse grains in 1998 in the subregion is also expected to recover from last year’s severely drought-affected harvest.

In Egypt, field preparation for planting of the 1998 paddy crop is underway, As yet there are no clear indications on the size of rice plantings, as this decision depends significantly on the availability of irrigation water.

WESTERN AFRICA: The rainy season is starting in the southern part of the coastal countries along the Gulf of Guinea. Land preparation and planting of the first maize crop are progressing northwards following the onset of the rains. In the Sahelian countries, seasonably dry conditions prevail and planting should begin in June/July with the start of the rainy season. In 1997, average to above-average harvests have been recorded in all the coastal countries, except in Liberia and Sierra-Leone, affected by civil disturbances. In the Sahel, following release of final production estimates in several countries, the aggregate output of cereals of the 9 CILSS member countries has been revised downwards to 8.9 million tonnes (including paddy rice) from 9.1 million tonnes initially estimated by the FAO/CILSS Crop Assessment Mission in October/November 1997. This is about 4 percent lower than the average for the last five years. Output is estimated to be above average in Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Niger but below average in Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Mauritania and Senegal.

While land is now being prepared for the sowing of the 1998 season rice crop, the full planting intentions of west African countries are still not known. In Nigeria, there are reports of a serious shortage of some inputs, especially fertilizers. In Guinea, rice production is forecast to rise as a major government programme to increase rice output is expected to lead to improved yields.

CENTRAL AFRICA: Average to above-average harvests have been gathered in 1997 in most countries. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, maize is growing satisfactorily in the centre and the south. Civil strife disrupted agricultural activities in the east where production of the first season crops has been seriously affected by recent population displacements and insecurity. Prospects for the second season are poor due to shortage of seeds.

EASTERN AFRICA: The subregion’s 1997 aggregate wheat output is estimated at 2.8 million tonnes, 8 percent down from the record crop of the previous year but above average. Production fell in Ethiopia and Kenya reflecting erratic weather during the season and rains at harvest. By contrast, in the Sudan, output increased and was close to the record: harvesting of the 1998 wheat crop has started. Despite favourable weather conditions during the season this year’s production is forecast to decline from the good level of 1997 due to reduced plantings.

Harvesting of the 1997/98 secondary coarse grains season is completed except in Ethiopia, where the "belg" crops are scheduled to be harvested from June. Excessive precipitation last October to February, associated with El Niño, had varying effects throughout the subregion. FAO’s latest estimates put the subregion’s aggregate 1997/98 coarse grain output at 18.4 million tonnes, a significant reduction from the record harvest of the previous year and below the average of the past five years. In Ethiopia, aggregate coarse grains output is estimated to have fallen by 25 percent from the bumper crop of the previous year, but at 6.7 million tonnes would remain above average. The main "meher" crop was affected by late and erratic rains during the season and extensive precipitation at harvest time. The secondary "belg" crop is expected to be normal following adequate rains in the second half of February and first half of March. In Tanzania, the output of the recently harvested 1997/98 secondary coarse grain season recovered after several reduced harvests in succession, despite localized crop losses due to exceptionally heavy rains. However, the main season output was reduced by dry weather and the aggregate 1997 coarse grains output is estimated at 2.7 million tonnes, well below the previous year’s level. Prospects for the 1998 main maize crop season in the unimodal rainfall areas are uncertain; plantings are expected to have been reduced by the excessive rains in recent months. In the Sudan, the 1997 main coarse grains crop fell by 15 percent from the good level in 1996 but, at 3.9 million tonnes, was still average. In Kenya, the aggregate 1997/98 main maize crop is provisionally estimated at 2.3 million tonnes, 7 percent above the reduced crop of the previous year but below average. This reflects heavy precipitation, which has adversely affected both the main season coarse grains crop at harvest time and the second season 1997/98 coarse grains since planting. In Somalia, the output of the recently harvested secondary "Der" season was sharply reduced by the worst floods in decades, while the main season crops were affected by erratic weather and pest infestations. Latest estimates put the aggregate coarse grains output at 287 000 tonnes, similar to the poor level of previous year. In Uganda, where the first season 1997 output was reduced by erratic weather, above normal rains affected the recently harvested second season coarse grains crop and yields were lower than previously anticipated. In Eritrea, the 1997 cereal output remained at the same poor level of 1996 as a result of dry spells and rains at harvest. In Rwanda and Burundi, the 1997 coarse grain crops recovered but remained below normal. However, the recently harvested 1998 first season coarse grain crops were below the previous year’s level as a result of late and then excessive rains.

SOUTHERN AFRICA: The subregion's aggregate 1997 wheat output is estimated at 2.7 million tonnes. This is above average but slightly lower than the 1996 bumper crop. Following good rainfall during the 1997 season and abundant irrigation water in most of the major dams, output was above average in most countries, including South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. A record crop of 300 000 tonnes was gathered in Zimbabwe, while in South Africa, the final estimate puts output at 2.3 million tonnes. For the 1998 crop, early prospects point to a reduced harvest later in the year, given the relatively low cumulative rainfall received this season and the likely reduction in irrigation water in reservoirs.

The initial estimates of the 1998 coarse grains crop point to a below average harvest of some 15.5 million tonnes, assuming normal weather conditions prevail for the remainder of the season. This would be 8.5 percent below 1997’s above-average crop, largely on account of reduced planting in many countries in response to drought warnings and irregular rains attributed to El Niño. However, earlier concerns of serious drought have not materialized. As of mid-March 1998, growing conditions have been generally favourable in most parts, with normal to above-normal rainfall received since October. Localized crop damage due to excessive rains is reported in parts of Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Swaziland. On the other hand, prolonged dry spells affected the southern half of the subregion extending across Lesotho, southern Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe and most of the northern and central portions of South Africa. More rains are needed in these areas in the next few weeks for crops to reach their maturity. As harvest is likely to be delayed following later-than-usual plantings at the beginning of the season, the danger also exists that an early frost in the upcoming winter period could damage part of the crop.

The 1998 paddy season is well advanced. Despite a late start of rains in Madagascar, which delayed the transplanting of rice in some areas, favourable rains were received in most parts of the island in December and January. Rice plantings may be somewhat reduced as a result of the delayed start of the season. While precipitation received in February will be beneficial to crops, the major threat to the 1998 crops to be harvested in March/April is the persistence of swarms of African Migratory Locust in several regions of the country. Aerial and ground control operations are in progress, but there are reports of only a limited availability of insecticides. Given the potential impact of locusts on crops, harvest prospects are uncertain and crop losses could be substantial. In Mozambique, paddy continues to benefit from favourable conditions in most parts of the country, despite initial concerns over a possible El Niño-induced drought, and harvesting is expected to start soon.


Unusually dry and warm conditions associated with El Niño continue to prevail over most of the subregion. Latest weather forecasts point to drier than normal conditions in the weeks ahead, thus posing a threat to the 1998 first season cereal crops to be planted from April.

Harvesting of the 1998 wheat crop is about to start in some of the main growing irrigated areas of the North-West of Mexico, virtually the sole producer in the subregion. Production is tentatively forecast to increase from last year, but would nevertheless remain slightly below average. The area planted was lower than intended as a consequence of El Niño-associated dry weather as well as the impact of tropical storms during planting.

Fieldwork for planting of the 1998 first season coarse grain (mostly maize) crop is being delayed in most Central American countries as a result of the extremely dry weather and abnormally high temperatures which have been consistently affecting the subregion since February. But March is considered a transition month at the end of the dry season before the arrival of the regular rains; precipitation was reported in the second week of March in some parts along the Atlantic seaboard. In Mexico, plantings are expected to decrease from the 1997 near-record level, but would still be about average. In Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, average plantings are expected after the reductions in the previous year, but much will depend upon whether normal rains resume. In the Caribbean, planting has started in the Dominican Republic and Haiti under generally normal conditions and the area sown should be slightly above average. In Cuba, planting of the maize crop is due to start from April and an average level is expected. In Jamaica, heavy rains and flooding in the eastern parts have affected food and export crops.


The impact of the El Niño phenomenon continues to be strongly felt over most of the subregion and latest forecasts indicate that it is likely to last through May. Heavy rains and flooding continue to affect the coastal areas and inland parts of Peru and Ecuador, while drought is reported in the highland valleys. Abnormally high temperatures and dry weather prevail over most of Venezuela and Colombia, but in the latter country flooding and high tides are also reported along the coastal areas near Ecuador. In Bolivia, drought persists in the plateau and highland valleys. In Brazil, recent rains in the North-East brought much needed moisture relief to the soil, while in the upper parts of the state of Roraima, in the extreme North, a long standing drought has contributed to forest fires. Heavy rains diminished by mid-March in the southern parts of the country, thus helping reduce excessive wetness and potential plant diseases.

Fieldwork has started in the southern parts of the subregion in preparation for planting of the 1998/99 wheat crop. In Argentina, plantings are tentatively forecast to decline from 1997 as farmers are expected to favour other crops which are anticipated to be more profitable than wheat. In Brazil, the area planted in the two key producing states, which accounts for 95 percent of domestic output, is expected to decrease from last year but would still remain about average while in Uruguay an increase is anticipated. In Paraguay and Chile, plantings are forecast to remain close to 1997 slightly above-average level. In the Andean countries, planting of the 1998 wheat crop is underway in Ecuador and Peru and is about to start in Bolivia (winter crop) and Colombia. The outlook is poor as these countries are being seriously affected by El Niño.

Harvesting of the 1997/98 coarse grain crop (mainly maize) is underway in the southern areas under wetter-than-normal conditions. In Argentina, recent heavy rains in the main producing areas have delayed operations. The outlook is nevertheless good and production is officially forecast at a record 18.2 million tonnes. Prospects are also satisfactory for the sorghum crop and a record 3.8 million tonnes output is anticipated. In Brazil, harvesting of the maize crop is at an advanced stage and production is expected to be about 32.5 million tonnes, below last year’s satisfactory output, as a result of reduced plantings and adverse weather. In North-East Brazil, recent rains particularly in the northern states have brought much needed moisture to the soil for planting of the 1998 maize crop, while little rain is reported in the extreme eastern states. In Uruguay and Paraguay, bumper maize crops are expected. In Chile, harvesting is about to start under normal conditions and production is tentatively forecast at an average 900 000 tonnes. In the Andean countries, in Bolivia, the outlook is poor for the 1998 maize crop to be harvested from April. This is due to drought attributed to El Niño which has affected plantings and yields. In Peru, the coastal areas and highland valleys of the country have been affected for the last 3 months by above-normal rain, flooding and mudslides. About 23 000 hectares of cultivated land are reported to be flooded. In Ecuador, virtually the whole country is affected by El Niño in the form of heavy rain, flooding and high tides in the coastal areas and drought in the highlands. About 185 000 hectares of farm land are reported to have been left uncultivated, mostly paddy, soybeans and sugar cane, because of the floods, while 105 000 hectares under crops, including 9 000 hectares of maize in the highlands, and export crops have been severely affected. In Colombia, prospects are poor for the 1998 first season coarse grain crops to be planted from April as abnormally dry and warm weather continue to prevail over most of the country. Imports in 1998 of some basic food items are expected to increase considerably from 1997. In Venezuela, drier and warmer than normal conditions presently forecast for the next weeks could affect plantings of the 1998 maize crop due to start from April.

The 1998 paddy season in the region is well advanced and harvesting is underway in many countries, although the season has been affected by El Niño related weather problems. Paddy output in Argentina will not be as high as earlier expected due to heavy rains associated with El Niño that have flooded an estimated 5 percent of the rice area and encouraged the development of fungal and other diseases. Paddy production is now forecast at 1.2 million tonnes. In Brazil, the region's largest rice producer, harvesting is underway in the central and southern parts and total output is expected to increase marginally from 1997 to about 9.9 million tonnes due to a slight expansion in area. In Uruguay, paddy is being gathered and output is expected to be marginally higher than last year’s record crop of 1.03 million tonnes due to increased area. Venezuela, which has emerged as an exporter in recent years, is likely to maintain its output at about last year's level of 640 000 tonnes. In Peru floods affected rice during the growing season and output is expected to be smaller than the 1.3 million tonnes harvested last year.


In the United States, a reduction in wheat output is in prospect in 1998. Latest official estimates put overall winter wheat plantings at 18.9 million hectares, 4 percent down from last year, while the March USDA Prospective Plantings Report forecasts spring wheat plantings also to decline by 10 percent to some 8 million hectares. However, the winter wheat crop has benefited from generally favourable weather conditions. Unseasonably mild temperatures and adequate soil moisture conditions are reported over the major winter wheat-producing states and despite limited protective snowcover in most parts, little wind or freeze damage has occurred so far. Assuming the expected reduction in spring plantings materializes, even if normal growing conditions prevail for the rest of the growing season, the aggregate 1998 wheat output in the United States is tentatively forecast to fall to about 62 million tonnes, compared to almost 69 million tonnes in 1997. In Canada, the bulk of the wheat crop for the 1998 harvest is due to be sown from May to June. Early indications point to a decrease in the area sown for the second successive year, by 4 percent, to about 11 million hectares. Relatively poor returns expected for wheat are likely to encourage farmers to switch to other crops such as oilseeds. In addition, farmers may be forced to leave more land fallow as below normal precipitation this winter is expected to result in unfavourable planting conditions in parts. However, if weather conditions throughout the growing season are normal, yields could recover somewhat from last year's below average levels and, despite the reduced area forecast, aggregate wheat output is tentatively forecast to increase by about 5 percent to 25.5 million tonnes.

In the United States, some early coarse grain crops are already planted and emerging in southern parts, but the bulk of the maize planting in the major Corn Belt states takes place from late April. Early indications in the USDA Prospective Plantings Report point to a further slight increase in maize plantings this year, to about 32.7 million hectares (32.5 million hectares in 1997). Allowing for a normal ratio of harvested to planted area, and assuming yields are on trend, the 1998 maize output could be expected to increase by some 3 or 4 percent. In Canada, the bulk of the coarse grains crops will be sown in May-June. With regard to barley, the major coarse grain crop, early indications point to a marginal reduction of plantings. However, as for wheat, assuming normal conditions, yields are expected to recover from the previous year and output could increase somewhat.

In the United States, early official indications are that about 1.3 million hectares of rice will be planted in 1998, slightly up from the previous year. Production is tentatively forecast at 8.4 million, an increase of 4 percent from the 1997 estimate. Planting of the rice crop normally starts around March/April.


Early prospects for the region’s 1998 wheat and coarse grain crops remain mixed. In the EC, weather conditions have been generally favourable since sowing time, with plentiful rainfall benefiting establishment of the winter crops. However, rainfall was particularly heavy in Portugal, southern Spain and southern Italy, causing some flooding and delays in winter grain planting. In the Community, aggregate winter grain plantings are estimated to have increased slightly. Latest information indicates larger areas of wheat and rye but less barley. The area sown to winter wheat is estimated to have increased in particular in France, Germany and the United Kingdom, the Community’s major producers. Elsewhere in Europe, in Bulgaria, the first official forecast puts the 1998 wheat crop at some 3.3 million tonnes, which would be about 400 000 tonnes down from the final official estimate of the 1997 crop reflecting a reduced area planted last autumn. Moreover, yield prospects are uncertain as the weather in February was unusually wet and severely constrained fieldwork during the optimum period for fertilizer applications. In the Czech Republic, contrary to earlier expectations of no change in the winter grain area, latest estimates indicate that plantings of wheat and barley rose and prospects are favourable for an increase in output. In Hungary, exceptionally mild temperatures generally prevailed since late December, which combined with below normal precipitation have sharply reduced soil moisture reserves. Development of winter cereals is ahead of normal because of the unusually warm conditions but plants are reported to be suffering from water stress. Rain is needed soon to avoid a reduction in yields. In Poland, the winter grain area for the 1998 harvest remained close to the previous year’s level. The winter wheat area is estimated at around 1.9 million hectares. Exceptionally mild temperatures are reported to have promoted development of the winter cereals much earlier than normal. In Romania, a reduction in wheat output is in prospect in 1998 due to smaller plantings and expected limited use of fertilizer.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the area sown to the 1998 winter grains (mostly wheat) has declined sharply. In Croatia, the outlook is for a lower wheat harvest than last year’s 936 000 tonnes. Winter grain planting was disrupted by adverse weather and growing conditions so far have been mixed. As a result of last year’s bumper yields are not likely to be repeated. In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the winter crop area is estimated to have fallen by some 2 percent from the previous year, due in part to inclement weather at planting time, but also reflecting chronic shortages of working capital, quality seed, inputs and operational machinery. After a difficult start, crops initially benefited from a mild winter but frosts in January caused some damage.

In all three Baltic countries, the outlook for winter grains for harvest in 1998 is satisfactory. The area sown is estimated to have fallen in response to reduced producer incentives and exportable surpluses in Lithuania.

In the EC, planting of the new season rice crop has just begun. In Italy, the largest rice producer in the region, weather conditions have been generally normal for planting and the area under rice in 1998 is not expected to be much different from the 234 000 hectares under paddy in 1997. For 1998, the proposed intervention price for paddy in the EC is 315.90 ECUs per tonne, down from 333.45 ECUs per tonne in the previous year.


In the CIS, the early outlook for the 1998 grain and pulse harvest is uncertain. Reduced winter grain plantings, notably in the Ukraine, more winterkill than last year, a sharp reduction in the areas ploughed in the autumn, and persistent problems with working capital, access to inputs, credit and machinery could result in a somewhat smaller harvest than last year’s 156 million tonnes of grains and pulses. In addition, most states have tighter budgets and less scope for directing funds to agriculture than in recent years. Preliminary forecasts are that, in the Ukraine, winter crop plantings fell by almost 1 million hectares and in addition, of the area sown, 8 percent will have to be resown this spring. The supply of fuel and fertilizer remains problematic. In the Russian Federation the outlook is somewhat better. The area sown to winter grains is close to last year’s level of nearly 13.5 million hectares, but there has been some crop damage as a result of winterkill and flooding in Krasnodar. Heavy rains in the Caucasus, where the winter grain area is reduced, have delayed the start of spring field work. Preliminary indications are that the spring wheat area could decline but that farmers’ demand for better quality seed is increasing. The area sown to feedgrains (wheat and coarse grains) is expected to fall in response to stocks and unsold exportable surpluses from the good 1997 harvest. In Kazakhstan, where the bulk of planting occurs in May, the aggregate area sown to grains could decline further. In a number of smaller states, the rapid expansion of the areas sown to cereals is likely to slow and in Uzbekistan the area to be sown to winter grains has been reduced. At this very early stage, FAO tentatively forecasts the aggregate output of wheat in the CIS to decline by up to 5 million tonnes to about 76 million tonnes, mainly reflecting lower harvests in both the Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Output of coarse grains, most of which have still to be planted, is also tentatively expected to fall by 5 million tonnes to 65 million tonnes, as larger planned plantings of barley in the Ukraine would only partially offset smaller areas in the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan.

1/ The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) includes 12 member states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, the Ukraine and Uzbekistan).


In Australia, planting of the main 1998 wheat and coarse grains crops is due to start in May. Early indications indicate that the aggregate winter grain area is likely to fall for the second year in succession. After two years of above-average areas

sown to the traditional crops of wheat and barley, producers are expected to diversify to crops with better returns such as malting barley, oilseeds and food pulses, and to livestock reflecting the improved price outlook for livestock products. Wheat plantings are forecast to decline by about 9 percent to 9.8 million hectares. However, if normal weather conditions prevail throughout the season, the national average yield is expected to increase somewhat from the previous year, when erratic rainfall patterns affected crops in some areas, and the 1998 wheat output is tentatively forecast at 17 million tonnes. Harvest of the minor 1998 summer coarse grain crop (mostly sorghum) is due to start soon. After generally favourable growing conditions since planting, output of sorghum is forecast to increase to about 1.6 million tonnes, from about 1.2 million tonnes in the previous year.

In Australia, the 1998 paddy crop is reported to be in the maturing stage and harvesting is set to begin in April, although early harvesting is expected in some areas in March. However, as a result of significantly lower water allocations in New South Wales, where virtually all the rice is grown, the area planted to rice declined by 16 percent from 1997 to about 140 000 hectares and paddy production is expected to fall by 14 percent to 1.2 million tonnes.

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