Bumper harvest predicted despite severe droughts
The mainland is still hopeful of seeing a bumper wheat harvest this summer, Agriculture Minister Han Changfu says, despite the severe drought that has affected most wheat-producing areas this spring.
The winter wheat crop, which makes up the bulk of the mainland's summer grain harvest and accounts for 90 per cent of total wheat output, was expected to increase for the eighth year in a row, Han said in a report on his ministry's website.
The mainland's grain output has been the focus of international attention in recent years, with frequent natural disasters threatening its ability to feed its 1.34 billion people. The drought earlier this year and the ongoing drought along the Yangtze River have increased concerns that the mainland, the world's biggest wheat producer, may see output drop.
Han said expectations were based on more planting and higher yields. A rebound in production in the southwest was likely to make an outstanding contribution, he said in a ceremony marking the beginning of the winter wheat harvest in Henan, the biggest wheat producer.
As for the major wheat-growing areas in central and eastern provinces, Han said reports from local governments showed that output could increase thanks to anti-drought measures.
But observers remain doubtful.
'The question now is not whether production is growing, but how big the gap [between the real production and the official figure] is,' said Chen Shuwei, senior analyst at Beijing Orient Agri-Business Consultant. 'How much wheat can the southwestern provinces produce?'
The five southwestern provinces contribute about 5 per cent of the mainland's total output, Xinhua said in April last year, when the area was in the grip of a severe drought.
The government claims wheat output has grown every year since 2004, but Chen said 'everybody is doubting that'. He said output may have grown from 2004 to 2007 but not after that, due to floods, droughts and unusually cold weather.
Professor Li Guoxiang, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Rural Development Institute, said it was possible that the figures had been massaged. 'The years with slight growth are especially doubtful,' he said.
Chen said clear evidence was provided by the mainland's growing imports. 'Why does it need to import so much if it's producing more and more itself?' he asked.
Imports of rice, wheat and corn, the three major grains, all climbed last year, with wheat imports up 36 per cent.
Li said that even if the wheat harvest did grow this year, there was still a great deal of pressure on grain output because wheat accounted for just a fifth of the mainland's total grain production.
of global usage is by China, the world's largest wheat consumer
- Global grain stocks are forecast to drop 15 per cent this year