Sunday, October 24, 2021

Soggy Fields and Costly Farm Inputs Affect China's Corn and Wheat

Chinese leaders are worried that flooded fields and soaring farm input prices are slowing the corn harvest and planting of the winter wheat crop. 

Sustained heavy rains and other anomalous weather events--including giant hail, tornadoes, and snow in August--have occurred all over northern China since the summer months. Many fields remain waterlogged or flooded, creating a double threat of suppressing the fall harvest of corn and delaying or preventing the planting of winter wheat. 

Flooded corn field in Shandong Province, September 26, 2021.
Source: iqilu Shandong news service.

The standing committee of China's State Council held an October 20 meeting that ordered officials to take measures to ensure that fall grain is harvested and to speed up the planting of winter wheat. The top leadership promised to give strong support for completion of fall harvest and planting of over-wintering crops to ensure food security and commodity price stability. 

According to Yicai, an official business news outlet, wet and muddy fields delayed harvest of grain and raised the cost of operating mechanical harvesters. Videos show corn stalks in standing water as much as a meter deep and farmers filling floating tubs with corn cobs. The agriculture ministry says 75 percent of the fall grain has been harvested, 4 percentage points less than usual. The cost of harvesting corn rose to about 50-to-100 yuan per mu (about $47-$93 per acre). 

Corn harvested in Shanxi Province.

Wet field conditions are having a more serious impact on planting of winter wheat. The ag ministry says wheat-planting is 26 percent complete, about half the usual progress. A ministry official warned at an October 20 news conference that the delay reduces the accumulated temperature-days for wheat seedlings to sprout and become established before winter sets in.  Late planting could affect the wheat's growth next spring and excess soil moisture is conducive to disease and pests. Some fields still have standing water and may not be planted at all.

Officials are also worried about how soaring prices of chemical fertilizer, pesticide, fuel and other inputs will affect farmers' income and production incentives. Yicai says the price of nitrogenous fertilizer has risen 25 percent since spring planting and phosphate fertilizer has risen 30 percent. The increase in fertilizer price is estimated to increase the cost of wheat production by the equivalent of 100-200 yuan (about $15-$30) per metric ton.

Indexes calculated using National Bureau of Statistics raw material purchase prices.

The State Council ordered officials to organize the procurement, drying and storage of corn. Their second responsibility is to ensure the planting of winter wheat by draining fields, choosing early-maturing varieties, applying extra fertilizer, and advising farmers on field management. The State Council instructed officials to maintain fertilizer supplies, stabilize input prices, adjust imports and exports, and monitor the quantity and quality of seeds. 

Agricultural officials have been ordered to drain fields, subsidize grain-drying equipment, ensure electricity supplies, and to speed up winter wheat-planting. They should use existing funds and finance departments should pass down next year's funds for aid to agricultural counties and machinery and equipment purchase subsidy funds to finance the disaster mitigation activities. A June 18 State Council meeting approved an extra 20-billion yuan in one-time subsidies for grain-planting farmers to compensate them for more costly farm inputs. 

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has assigned each of its top leaders responsibility for one province each of the seven targeted for assistance in grain harvest and wheat planting: Hebei, Shandong, Henan, Jiangsu, Anhui, Shaanxi, and Shanxi Provinces. Local news media report that communist party officials are organizing teams to dredge ditches, draining fields with earth-moving equipment, and giving advice to farmers for harvesting corn and planting wheat.

Pumps supplied by firemen drained fields in a county of western Heilongjiang. Source: The Paper.


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