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Commodity Intelligence Report
May 25, 2012

AFGHANISTAN:  Wheat Production Forecast at Near-Record Levels in 2012

Afghanistan’s domestic food security situation is expected to markedly improve this year owing to a resurgence in national wheat production. The country benefitted from one of the most favorable growing seasons in recent memory, with well-timed rainfall occurring during all critical crop development phases. Plentiful rainfall helped ensure a major increase in non-irrigated dryland wheat production throughout important northern growing regions this year. As a result, significantly higher dryland production will boost overall national output to near-record levels. USDA’s estimate released May 10, 2012 for marketing year 2012/13 wheat production is 3.8 million tons, up 1.3 million or 52 percent from last year. Harvested wheat area is forecast at 2.35 million hectares, up 0.25 million or 12 percent.

Wheat crop yields in 2012 are forecast to be well-above average and approximately 36 percent higher than last year owing to excellent moisture during planting, strong emergence, and heavier than normal plant populations in cultivated fields. Unusually beneficial showers blanketed much of the country during the autumn 2011 planting period and extended through the early crop establishment phase in December 2011. Overall wheat crop emergence and establishment as a result has been above normal in most growing areas (see map above). The major exception is in the Northeast provinces of Badakhshan and Takhar where late-retreating heavy snows delayed spring emergence and development. Crops there have made strong progress in recent weeks and are expected to show similarly favorable prospects to its neighbors in June. Satellite-derived vegetation index (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index -- NDVI) data across the country indicate that not only has there has been a significant increase in crop vegetation compared to last year, but that yield prospects in many northern irrigated areas are higher than normal. The combination of increased national wheat crop area and yields is expected to result in significantly higher total production this year.

Wheat is grown throughout the country in a wide variety of microclimatic environments. These range from the arid desert lowlands of Helmand province to the temperate high altitude mountain valleys in provinces like Bamyan and Ghor. The crop is typically planted in the autumn and harvested in early summer. Over half of the national wheat crop is totally reliant on rainfall, while approximately 45 percent of total area has access to irrigation. Irrigated wheat is cultivated in virtually every province; however total acreage is insufficient to ensure national wheat self-sufficiency. Afghanistan is an exceptionally arid country which experiences wide fluctuations in seasonal rainfall and is prone to periodic drought. Its large non-irrigated rainfed wheat regions which are located in the northern half of the country are particularly vulnerable, with widespread crop failure often associated with low rainfall in either autumn or spring. National annual wheat production, as a consequence, is highly variable. The 2012 wheat harvest in Afghanistan will begin in the next few weeks and be completed at the highest elevations in the Hindu Kush Mountains sometime in late July or early August. The bulk of the harvest usually occurs from late May through early July, as the majority of crops are cultivated in earlier-maturing lowland locations.

Crops in all locations except the highest elevations are beginning their final maturation growth phase in May, with harvest activities expected to begin in provinces such as Helmand and Farah before the end of the month. The most significant increases in wheat production this year are expected in the major wheat regions of the northwest, north, and northeast (where surplus national production typically occurs). These same regions were severely affected by drought last year, causing national wheat production to decline roughly 32 percent. The northern half of the country as a whole typically accounts for approximately 70 percent of total national production. So when widespread regional problems develop in these areas it has substantial national implications. This year’s especially favorable rainfall pattern, however, ensured near-optimal growing conditions and higher than normal crop yield potential. Satellite imagery of prime irrigated and non-irrigated lands in the northern provinces of Badghis, Faryab, Jowzjan, Sari Pul, Balkh, Samanghan, Kunduz, and Baghlan indicate that crop establishment was superb this year.

In addition to a comfortable domestic wheat supply situation this year, near-normal production is also forecast for much of the Central Asia region. This includes countries such as Pakistan and Kazakhstan which still have near-record carryover stocks from last year and who normally provide the vast majority of Afghanistan’s commercial wheat import needs. As a result there should be more than ample wheat supplies in the region to satisfy Afghanistan’s import requirements.

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 Michael Shean | | (202) 720-7366
USDA-FAS, Office of Global Analysis

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