Rain, snow may eat into China's grain harvest

Shenyang (China Daily/ANN) - Excessive rain and snow in Northeast China - the country's main grain-growing area - has delayed spring plowing by about 10 days, with some doubting that the country will achieve yet another increase in its grain harvest this year.

By Wednesday, 66.323 million mu (4.4 million hectares) of farmland had been ploughed, accounting for only 40 percent of the planned acreage, Heilongjiang Daily reported on Thursday.

In the worst-case scenario, reduced grain production will drive up China's food prices, increase the inflation rate in the second half of the year, and cause food prices to surge in the global market, analysts said.

Provinces in Northeast China have been hit with excessive rain since last autumn. In Heilongjiang province alone, the rainfall volume from Sept 1 to Nov 1 reached 151 millimeters, 70 percent higher than the average amount in previous years.

By March 28, the average winter precipitation in Heilongjiang province stood at 53.2 millimeters, 109 percent higher than the historical average, a record in 50 years, according to the province's meteorological bureau.

Local government and media in Heilongjiang said that more than 5.3 million hectares of farmland was waterlogged, and conditions in 3.2 million hectares of land were "serious" in the province.

"We are two to three weeks behind the usual time to plow the land and plant the seeds," said Yu Zhiwen, a 59-year-old farmer in Suihua, Heilongjiang.

Yu runs a plot of farmland with less than 3 hectares. Water in his plot reaches his ankles, making it inaccessible to either machines or farmers.

"The pump does not work. All we can do is wait for the weather to warm up and for the water to evaporate," Yu said.

Yu has a family of five, and all of his household's income comes from the land. In previous years, the land could produce at least 7,500 kilograms of corn per hectare, but he only expects about half of that amount this year.

In 2012, China's northeastern provinces accounted for 23 percent of the country's grain production, 15 percent of its rice and 43 percent of its corn, official data showed.

"Corn in Northeast China is only harvested once a year, so a late ploughing means a shorter growing period, and this will affect yields," said Feng Lichen, president of Yumi.com.cn, a corn industry website.

"If the bad weather continues, the impact on this year's corn output will be huge," Feng said.

The local government and the Ministry of Agriculture said they are still assessing the losses caused by the rain, and they declined to reveal further details.

Meanwhile, analysts said that they feel "pessimistic" about the prospects of China achieving yet another bumper harvest.

And given the country's huge demand for corn, a reduced output would trigger price increases in the global food market.

"We expected to see a bumper corn harvest in the world this year, but if China suffers any losses in yields, corn prices in the global market will surge," said Ma Wenfeng, a senior analyst at Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant.

Ma also said the government could face growing inflation pressure in the second half of the year, as a reduced grain harvest would drive up food prices in the domestic and global markets.

"This will likely make the government tighten up monetary policies in the last few months of this year," Ma added.

China's grain output reached 589 million metric tons in 2012, the ninth consecutive year of increased grain harvests, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

The country is the world's second-largest corn consumer after the United States. In 2012, corn imports to China jumped nearly two-fold to 5.2 million metric tons. Most of the imported corn came from the US.

Zhou Huiying in Heilongjiang and Han Junhong in Jilin contributed to this story.

COPYRIGHT: ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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