Thursday, July 22, 2021

Floods, pests, disease, drought pose risks for China's big harvest

Epic flooding, drought, hungry caterpillars, and stubborn African swine fever have Chinese officials scrambling to shore up the fall grain harvest--just two months away.

Torrential rains and catastrophic floods in Henan Province this week are the latest and most-publicized of a series of mid-summer extreme weather events that have affected most of China's major agricultural regions in 2021. 

On July 21, Xi Jinping issued "important directives" to prevent casualties and property damage from the serious flooding in Henan. Noting that rivers are above their normal levels, dams are vulnerable, some trains have been stopped and flights have been canceled, the flood control situation was pronounced to be very severe. Soldiers were ordered to help with rescue and aid, and authorities were instructed to provide ample warning of heavy rain, typhoons, mountain torrents, and mudslides. 

Flooding in Jiangxi Province.

In June, Yicai reported that there was widespread flooding in Inner Mongolia and farms had been flooded when one reservoir breached its banks. Youtube videos show at least two modest-sized reservoirs in Inner Mongolia bursting. Some rivers Heilongjiang in the northeastern part of the country were also flooding, according to Yicai, and there were also concerns about flooding in western and northern parts of the Pearl River basin. Yicai insists there is no reason to worry about abnormal weather happening simultaneously with droughts in the western United States and Brazil because China produced record amounts of grain the last two years.

On July 12--before the Henan storms--China's Ministries of agriculture, water resources, emergency management and weather bureau discussed a 100-day fall harvest action plan for the key July-September months to address:

  • summer drought in the northeast 
  • Yellow River flooding
  • high temperatures and typhoons in the mid- and lower reaches of the Yangtze River
  • controlling the spread of fall army worms 
  • controlling rice pests

The disaster mitigation program is aimed at achieving the national 650-million-metric-ton grain harvest target. A circular describing the program was released July 20 (the document itself does not seem to be publicly available) calling for each department and local government to take steps to prevent and mitigate disasters as the agricultural sector faces risks from abnormal weather. The program calls for issuing weather reports, early warnings, drilling emergency wells, building drainage facilities, shoring up reservoirs, refining emergency plans, issuing aid and materials, preventing pest and disease outbreaks after floods recede, and assigning technicians and experts to advise particular provinces and districts. 

Henan Province rainfall map, July 19-20, 2021

On July 15-16, Minister of Agriculture Tang Renjian inspected disaster prevention and mitigation work in Shandong Province, another grain producing region hit by horrendous storms June 15-16. Tang sounded the same themes about ensuring a big fall harvest, weather forecasting and pest control. Tang inspected a "high-standard field" project and checked the status of corn stalks. Tang was said to be "very concerned about pest prevention," saw observation lights meant to detect army worms and learned about bug specimen collection.

June flooding in Shandong Province

On July 20--the same day as the storm(?)--the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs held a meeting of officials from nine provinces to discuss control of fall army worms--ravenous caterpillars--in the Yellow River region. The officials are charged with holding losses of corn in the region to no more than 3 percent this year and preventing the caterpillars from spreading beyond the Great Wall into the main corn-producing regions of the northeastern provinces.

The African Swine Fever (ASF) situation was acknowledged as grim and a "heavy task" at a July 20 Ministry of Ag news conference on the state of the agricultural economy. The official recited the tiny number of ASF outbreaks reported by the Ministry to demonstrate improvement since 2019, but he acknowledged that the virus is established in the country, that contamination is geographically widespread and has been found in each link of the supply chain, and described the virus as "stubborn." He acknowledged that there have been new strains lately with less severe symptoms, and a long incubation period makes the virus difficult to detect. He worried that infections from abroad are a risk due to the country's long border. The official admitted that animal disease prevention and quarantine doesn't operate well--with many grassroots veterinary organizations having unpaid bills--raising the risk of recurrence of the disease. The official warned local officials not to slack off or be careless in animal disease prevention efforts. 

Farmers in Sichuan Province try to rescue corn from flooding last year.

At the July 20 news conference, another official insisted that China had an excellent summer harvest of grain--reversing several years of decline in wheat area and improving the quality wheat area to 37 percent. In response to a question about mold and fungus on wheat due to summer rains, she asserted that only 0.3 percent of the wheat had problems and she suggested the bad wheat could be fed to animals. 

While the wheat in Henan--the biggest wheat-producing province--was already harvested before this week's torrential rains, one might wonder how wheat held in storage might be prevented from molding when most of the province is flooded and humid. 

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