A drought in the north China plain, the country’s winter wheat production region, could lead to a reduced harvest, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today, saying concern over the water shortage has caused wheat prices in the country to rise rapidly over the past few months.
“The ongoing drought is potentially a serious problem,” the FAO Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS) unit said in a special alert on China.
Low precipitation and diminished snow cover have reduced the protection of dormant wheat plants against frost kill temperatures during winter months from December to February, according to the alert. The conditions have also jeopardized the soil moisture availability for the post-dormant growing period.
The main affected provinces include Shandong, Jiangsu, Henan, Hebei and Shanxi, which together account for about 60 per cent of the wheat planted area, and two thirds of the national wheat production.
Some 5.16 million hectares of the total of about 14 million hectares under winter wheat may have been affected, according to official estimates. The drought has reportedly affected more than 2.5 million people, who are experiencing shortages of drinking water. Nearly 2.8 million livestock are also affected.
The agency, however, pointed out that there have been positive developments, including relatively mild temperatures, particularly the absence of frost kill temperatures, and lower than average sub-zero temperatures on some days.
Increased supplementary irrigation made available by the Government is also likely to compensate for some of the negative impact, but the adverse weather could still devastate yields.
The national average retail price of wheat flour in China rose by more than 8 per cent last month compared to two months earlier, and stood at 16 per cent higher than last year.
“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 the temperatures in February fall below normal,” said the FAO report.