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Commodity Intelligence Report
April 15, 2009

China 2009/10 Winter Wheat Situation

  • The 2009/10 winter crop was planted in October 2008. The weather was favorable and the crop went into dormancy in good condition. Sown area for 2009/10 increased slightly.
  • Drought conditions developed over several months. At its peak in February, almost 11 million hectares of wheat in northern China were affected by drought
  • The drought was fought with intensive irrigation efforts and rainmaking technology
  • Moderate to heavy precipitation from mid February through March ended the drought.
  • The wheat crop is currently in good condition. Harvest will start in May.


China Wheat Distribution Map – Percent of National Production


China’s winter wheat crop is concentrated in 5 provinces located on the North China Plain. Henan is the most important province, accounting for about 25 percent of total wheat output, followed by Shandong, Hebei, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces. Wheat production in 2008/09 is estimated at 113.0 million tons from 24.0 million hectares. with winter wheat accounting for more than 90 percent of the total. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and other Chinese sources, winter wheat area for 2009/10 was expected to increase by about 1 percent due to higher procurement prices and increased government subsidies for high quality seed, machinery, and inputs.

Good Start for the 2009/10 Crop


The 2009/10 winter wheat crop got off to a good start. Timely rain and mild temperatures in September and October 2008 provided favorable conditions for wheat planting and emergence. Although precipitation was unusually low in November and December, the Ministry of Agriculture reported that the crop was in good condition when it entered dormancy in mid-December. The weather at the start of 2009 was typically cold and dry across the region.


Drought Develops in Northern China


Authorities started issuing drought warnings in January, 2009. Rainfall from October through December 2008 had been 50 to 80 percent below normal in most areas of northern China, and though winters in northern China are normally very dry (less than 10 mm per month), the nearly complete absence of rain and snow for several months, combined with above-normal temperatures in mid-January was cause for concern. The drought intensified during January and the first week of February as soil moisture declined.


Autumn Weather - Temperature and Precipitation Departure From Normal

October 1 - December 31, 2008

Source: Climate Prediction Center


At its peak on February 7, the drought affected an estimated 10.866 million hectares of cropland in northern China, including more than 10 million hectares of winter wheat in the top 8 wheat provinces. The worst conditions were reported in Anhui, Henan, Shanxi, Gansu, Hebei and Shandong provinces, with minor drought reported in adjacent provinces. Some 4.42 million people suffered from lack of drinking water, as well as 2.2 million large domestic animals. There had been only a dusting of snow over the winter in the northernmost areas of Shandong, Hebei, Shanxi, and Xinjiang. This was in sharp contrast to the extraordinarily strong snow and ice storms that hit China in January 2008


The Chinese government at all levels employed aggressive measures to fight the drought, enlisting millions of people to irrigate the dry fields, by bucket if necessary, in areas where water was available and average temperatures were above freezing. Officials sent 279,000 experts and technical personnel to fight the drought, trained 19.7 million farmers on drought-resisting technology, and mobilized 31.7 million people. Within weeks, an estimated 9.33 million hectares of wheat fields had been irrigated, about 84 percent of the drought-affected area and more than 42 percent of the total wheat sown area. In Henan, China’s most important wheat province, farmers irrigated nearly 95 percent of the wheat crop.



The government also launched thousands of shells containing silver iodide pellets in order to induce precipitation. The effort is credited for triggering widespread rain and snow showers during the second week of February, including an unusual February snowfall in Beijing.

(Pictures from Xinhua. Top - Irrigation in Anhui.

Right - Shooting artillery shells to make rain.)

Rain and Snow Return in February


The first significant precipitation of the 2008/09 winter occurred on February 8 - 10 across eastern and central China. Precipitation amount of 1-10 mm (rain/snow mix) were reported in nearly all wheat areas, with heavier amounts (up to 25 mm) reported in Shanxi and the middle reaches of the Yangtze River valley. Although the amounts were small, the precipitation provided welcome relief and signaled the beginning of the end of the drought. Over the next two weeks, most of eastern China received beneficial precipitation as a strong flow of unusually warm moist air from the southwest interacted with colder air from the north. By the end of February, Chinese officials had cancelled the drought emergency and declared that conditions had returned to normal.

Percent normal rainfall, February 1 - 10, 2009




According to the Ministry of Agriculture, as of March 1 the amount of winter wheat affected by drought in the top eight provinces had dropped by 80 percent to 2.17 million hectares, of which only 461,330 hectares were rated as seriously affected. The drought continued to weaken through March with the arrival of additional moderate to heavy rainfall and cooler temperatures.


Drought Impact is Insignificant

In January, various analysts said that the drought, described as the worst since 1951 in some areas, could cause wheat production for 2009/10 to drop by as much as 20 percent from last year, requiring imports to make up the deficit. However, on March 5 the State Grain Administration reported that the crop had largely escaped damage from the drought and was growing well.  SPOT- NDVI images and graphs indicate that the winter wheat crop was in very good condition as of March 31.


SPOT-Veg NDVI image

March 21-31, 2009

(Winter wheat growing area is circled)



Weather is Highly Variable in March and April

China's winter wheat crop normally comes out of dormancy between February 21 and March 11, but above-normal temperatures pushed the crop ahead of schedule this year.  Cooler weather in late March slowed the pace of development and caused minor frost damage in northern growing areas, but a return to warmer weather in April spurred rapid growth.  According to the USDA/FAS/OGA Growth Stage Model, the crop had reached the boot/flowering stage in Sichuan and the Yangtze River basin as of April 10 and was quickly advancing through the tillering and jointing stages in Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu, and Hebei provinces. In normal years, most of the winter wheat crop reaches the critical flowering stage around May 1.

The weather in China in March and early April has been characterized by large temperature changes and a variable rainfall pattern. For example (see below), the Yellow River Basin had plentiful rainfall and warm temperatures in mid-March (up to 4 to 6 degrees C above normal) that were advantageous for winter wheat growth.  A similar pattern was found in Henan, China's most important wheat province.  In southern Jiangsu and Anhui, the warm weather in March helped compensate for a period of abnormally cool and wet weather at the end of February.  In northern Xinjiang, warm temperatures and abundant rainfall in March benefited both winter wheat growth and spring wheat planting. However, high temperatures and windy weather caused rapid soil moisture evaporation in the Gansu, Ningxia and Shanxi area, which may have hurt spring wheat emergence.

Temperatures dropped sharply in northern China at the end of March, reaching a low of -11 degrees Celsius (12 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of Shanxi province on March 25 - 26 and dropping below freezing in parts of Shandong.  An estimated 24,173 hectares of wheat suffered serious frost damage in central Shanxi, but this was less than 0.1 percent of total winter wheat area.  The Ministry of Agriculture said the cold weather slowed wheat jointing in parts of Shandong and Anhui, but the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) said it expected little damage to the winter wheat crop. 

The weather has been increasingly warm and dry across northern China in April, causing soil moisture to decline and raising the level of crop stress.  The forecast by CMA calls for mostly warm and dry weather to continue through mid-April.


Temperature and Rainfall Graphs - September 1, 2008 to April 10, 2009



Forecast for 2009/10

Chinese officials on April 2 said crop conditions were better than expected and production prospects had improved over time. The most sensitive period for winter wheat development is at the end of April and beginning of May, when the crop is in the critical flowering stage and moisture demands are highest. The first USDA estimate of the 2009/10 wheat crop will be published on May 12, 2009.


Visit Crop Explorer:

Current USDA area and production estimates for grains and other agricultural commodities are available on IPAD's Agricultural Production page or at PSD Online.

For more information contact Paulette Sandene | | (202) 690-0133
USDA-FAS, Office of Global Analysis

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