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Crops dry up as drought drags on

Updated: 2011-02-09 07:54

By Chen Xin (China Daily)

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BEIJING - A prolonged and severe drought that has ravaged some of China's major grain-producing areas is raising concern about the next harvest, says the Ministry of Agriculture.

By Feb 4, the arid conditions had affected more than 6.4 million hectares of wheat, or about 35 percent of the crop planted in the affected areas.

The ministry said the drought has affected eight major grain-producing provinces and has been building since October.

The eight provinces together produce more than 80 percent of the country's winter wheat, the ministry explained, adding that the situation might worsen as temperatures rise during the crucial spring growing season and significantly damage this summer's harvest.

In a bid to deal with the difficult problem the drought has caused, the ministry has asked agricultural departments at all levels to strengthen their efforts to channel water to affected areas, enhance irrigation and ensure the availability of fertilizer.

It has also sent working groups of experts to drought-hit provinces to help farmers mitigate the damage.

The Ministry of Agriculture plans to hold a national meeting via video hookup on Wednesday so additional ways to combat the drought can be discussed.

Meanwhile, authorities in drought-hit regions are taking steps to ensure thirsty fields are irrigated.

East China's Shandong province, the nation's second-biggest wheat producer, is suffering its most severe drought for six decades and has only seen 12 millimeters of rain since September, 85 percent less than usual, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Even though 4,000 pumping stations are supplying water, the situation in the province is severe.

Data from the provincial meteorological bureau shows that the drought will be Shandong's worst for 200 years if there is no significant precipitation before the end of February, Xinhua reported.

In Shandong's mountainous Sishui county, where there has not been any rain for three months, 16,700 hectares of wheat have been affected and may produce lower yields, China Central Television reported on Monday.

"The current growing situation for wheat is worse than it has been for years," the report quoted farmer Li Fengtao as saying.

TV footage showed Li holding a dry and yellowed wheat plant and saying that it should be green at this time of year.

Li farms 0.2 hectares of wheat that usually produces about 1,700 kilograms a year.

The farmer said his field will produce nothing if he is not able to irrigate it within a matter of days.

To combat the devastating drought, Shandong has allocated 800 million yuan ($120 million) in emergency funding and repaired and dug more than 30,000 irrigation wells.

In Yongnian county in North China's Hebei province, electricity suppliers have been working hard to ensure there is enough power for irrigation.

"We have dispatched 23 service teams to walk into fields to pre-run and fix some 6,000 irrigation machines in the county," China National Radio quoted Zhang Zhiqiang, a manager with a power supplier, as saying on Tuesday.

To prevent heavy losses from the dry spell, Hebei has transferred 70 million cubic meters of water from the Yellow River and has reserved another 200 million cubic meters of water.

The radio quoted Li Qinglin, head of Hebei's water resources bureau, as saying that the province will bring in more water from other provinces and start up all irrigation facilities to water dry fields.

In North China's Shanxi province, 1.5 million hectares of wheat have been affected across more than 60 percent of the province's wheat-producing areas. And the drought has had an immediate impact on people living there as well, leaving more than 440,000 residents with a temporary shortage of drinking water.

The province has allocated 230 million yuan to subsidize pumping stations and irrigation projects and another 50 million yuan to stabilize water prices for rural residents.

The severe drought has led speculators to expect higher prices on the wheat futures market amid fears that crops may fail and drive up grain prices, Xinhua reported.

However, the efforts of farmers and local governments to mitigate the impact of the drought, coupled with a large inventory of grain, are expected to reduce that risk.

Data from the National Development and Reform Commission shows current grain reserves are equal to about 40 percent of total grain consumption in 2010, which is thought to be enough to satisfy domestic demand and avoid a price hike.

Premier Wen Jiabao, during his trip to drought-ravaged areas of Shandong on Feb 2 and 3, said stabilizing consumer prices will be the "most important task" this year among the economic policies of the central government. Grain prices are fundamental for achieving that goal, he said.

China Daily

(China Daily 02/09/2011 page3)


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