IRAN: Another Disappointing Wheat Harvest Ahead in 2009/10
The widely dispersed winter grain production regions in Iran have generally experienced more favorable growing conditions in 2009/10 than during last year’s extremely severe drought. Normal to above normal rainfall in the important rainfed wheat growing areas of northwest Iran has helped improve overall grain production prospects this year. However, drought conditions have persisted in important southern and western irrigated growing areas, ensuring the nation will have another below-average national grain harvest in 2009/10. The dwindling supply of irrigation water in several major producing provinces has resulted in regional declines in grain area and much reduced crop yield potential in the affected areas. Despite regional drought, total wheat production is expected to increase roughly 20 percent over last year, though still resulting in the second lowest harvest in the past six years. The disappointing 2009/10 wheat harvest could lead to significant additional grain imports, following on the record 8.5 million tons estimated to have been imported in 2008/09.
Rainfall conditions have been significantly more favorable than last year across most of Iran during the 2009/10 grain growing season, with many areas averaging normal to above-normal accumulations. The main exceptions are provinces in central, south and southeastern Iran which averaged between 25-75 percent of normal rainfall. These drought-affected provinces include Ilam, Khuzestan, Esfahan, Fars, Bushehr, and Kohkiloyeh va Boyrahmad. They collectively account for about 40 percent of total wheat production in the country. Unlike last year the latter half of the 2009/10 growing season proved very favorable, with most wheat growing areas receiving very beneficial showers once crops broke dormancy. This was especially true in April when well-above normal rainfall blanketed much of western, northern and northeastern Iran as crops were in or near reproductive growth stages. The beneficial spring rainfall will enable non-irrigated crop yields in the important northwestern region to rebound to above average levels this year.
Vegetation index maps from the Spot satellite illustrate the significant improvement in crop vegetation this year in northwestern provinces following unusually beneficial winter and spring rainfall. At this time last year drought gripped the vast majority of Iran’s grain producing provinces, causing an estimated 33 percent decline in national wheat production. With a very healthy grain crop developing in northwestern producing areas this year, wheat production in 2009/10 is currently estimated by USDA at 12.0 million tons, up 2.0 million or 20 percent from last year.
As of April 20th 2009, however, many crop areas are still showing below normal vegetative development, and will need to be monitored closely in coming weeks. This includes the drought-affected southwestern provinces as well as several growing areas in north and northeastern Iran. Nationally, areas accounting for approximately 45-50 percent of total wheat production are showing deficient vegetative conditions. The heavy rainfall received in April 2009 may yet prove to be beneficial to late-season crop development and production potential, and as such these areas will have to be monitored in May for any signs of change. Harvest activities normally proceed from May through August, with lowland crops in southern provinces reaching maturity earliest.
The Landsat satellite images above illustrate that water levels in major reservoirs have declined significantly in the southern province of Fars after two consecutive years of drought in the region. Fars is usually the single largest wheat producing province in Iran, contributing roughly 14 percent of the national harvest. Approximately 600,000 hectares is normally sown to wheat in the province with 70 percent of it irrigated. The satellite images compare March 2009 to March 2007. Reservoir levels have fallen dramatically after two consecutive years of below-average precipitation. Irrigated crop acreage has been significantly reduced.
The Landsat satellite imagery analysis helps explain the large-scale decline in crop vegetation that is evident in regional vegetation index maps this season. The largest concentration of cropland in Fars province is the focus of the two maps below; they show an overview of extremely poor current wheat growing conditions. Based on the vegetation index and satellite image analysis, irrigated crop area has fallen significantly and surviving crops have below normal vegetative development and in some areas much below normal. This implies that crops are under serious moisture stress and that crop density is sparse. Moisture stress and sparse vegetation indicate low yield potential for the grain crops this season.
Current USDA area and production estimates for grains and other agricultural commodities are available on IPAD's Agricultural Production page or at PSD Online.