Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Worst-ever Wheat Seedlings Highlighted After Premier's Report

The condition of this spring's wheat seedlings is the worst ever, according to China's agriculture minister as he prioritized work on winter wheat field management this spring. 

Minister Tang Renjian made the remarks as he elaborated on the Premier's March 5 Government Work Report to the National Peoples Congress. Tang described the Premier's directive to maintain this year's grain production at 650 million metric tons or more as a "war order" and a mandatory task.  

Xi Jinping's endorsement of the importance of the priority on agriculture was made clear by propaganda authorities the following day, including a social media post calling for "raising comprehensive agricultural productivity." 

The poor condition of the wheat crop is based on an assessment given by experienced wheat producers and scientists during Minister Tang's recent tour of wheat-growing areas. Before winter, the proportion of seedlings in class one or two was down 20 percentage points from usual, which Tang Renjian described as "difficult." Tang explained that extensive flooding in five wheat-growing provinces last fall delayed the sowing of wheat by about half a month on average for one-third of the winter wheat area.

Minister Tang expressed confidence that a good wheat harvest can still be achieved. He noted that their efforts had prevented the area planted in wheat from decreasing last fall. Heavy snow and rain during the winter has improved the level of moisture in the soil, and farmers and officials will soon begin their annual campaign to spray a combination of growth promoters, herbicides and anti-fungal goop on the wheat crop this spring. 

In his speech, Premier Li Keqiang recited a litany of measures aimed at stabilizing agricultural output this year. Farmers will receive another "one-time" subsidy to compensate them for soaring input prices. Minimum prices for wheat and rice will be increased (wheat prices are already far above the minimum announced last fall.) Local officials in grain-producing areas will get transfer payments to fund agricultural schemes. A long-promised program of income insurance and full-production-cost insurance is supposed to be implemented in all grain-producing regions this year.

Local party and government officials will be held responsible for keeping production stable, especially officials in urbanized areas that do not produce enough grain for their own people. Local officials have to keep agricultural land from falling below the "red line" of 120 million hectares. Farmland must not be converted to nonagricultural uses nor shifted to non-grain crops. There are targets to build 100 million mu (6.67 million hectares) of "high standard fields" each year, to designate permanent farmland, establish large and medium irrigation districts. A new national census of soils will begin this year. A directive to "fully utilize black soil and salinized land" is code for curbing erosion of the country's most productive soil and degradation of land through over-use of chemical fertilizer. The seed industry and agricultural R&D were also among the priorities. 

Supply problems are wider than grains. The Premier ordered an adjustment of hog production capacity and attention to production of livestock and poultry, aquaculture and vegetables. 

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