02/15/2011, 00.00
CHINA
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Drought threatens 6.75 million hectares of crops

Snowfall and cloud seeding have had limited effects. Drought has been particularly bad for wheat, whose output is expected to be around 100 million tonnes this year, down from 115 last year. Once self-sufficient, China must import as world prices skyrocket.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Cloud seeding and snowfalls are likely to have a limited impact on northern China, reeling from the worst drought in 60 years, wrote Chen Lei, deputy director of the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, on his website last Sunday. The drought has affected 6.75 million hectares of crops, especially winter wheat.

Rain on eight provinces has been "substantially" below normal since October, including Shandong (the worst drought in 200 years), Jiangsu, Henan, Hebei and Shanxi, who together accounted for 67 per cent of Chinese what production in 2009.

Snow has brought some relief but Henan, China’s top-producing province, has had only an average of 5.5 millimetres of snow. Shandong too has not had a lot of snow.

Expert Yu Zhenwen told the Xinhua news agency that the hardest-hit regions needed at least 50 millimetres of precipitation but that recent snowfalls amounted to less than 10.

Jeffrey Landsberg, president of a consultancy firm, does not expect things to improve. He said that the mainland should produce “approximately 100 million tonnes", down from the estimated 115 million tonnes of last year.

Altogether, the drought has left leaving 2.8 million people and more than 2.5 million head of livestock short of drinking water.

The mainland, the world's biggest grain consumer, will spend 12.9 billion yuan (US$ 1.75 billion) to fight drought and boost grain production, China Central Television announced. However, about 20 per cent of winter wheat growing areas have no ability to irrigate fields, Chen said. Thus, mainland wheat imports this year may jump to around three million tonnes.

Urban sprawl, large-scale pollution and repeated natural disasters have forced the once self-sufficient nation to import wheat: 1.2 million tonnes last year, 893,700 tonnes in 2009 and just 31,900 tonnes in 2008.

Landsberg said the global supply of wheat in 2010 was tight. Wildfires cut Russia’s wheat production (with Moscow banning exports), Australia’s wheat crop was damaged by flooding, and production dropped in Canada as well.

Speculation that production will be cut has pushed wheat prices in Chicago, the global benchmark, to the highest level in more than two years. Since mid-November, prices have shot up by about 35 per cent.

China imports wheat especially from Australia, the United States and South America. However, shipment from the Americas can take up to 45-60 days. Higher demand is likely to cause port congestion.

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