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Irrigation takes edge off long drought in China's wheat fields
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13:23, February 20, 2009

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-- Yin Menggeng isn't as worried as he was a week ago about his wheat harvest. His fields, which were withering amid a three-month drought, are turning green again after being irrigated with water from a nearby well.

"This year, despite the drought, the output can still match last year's if the crops grow well with more irrigation," said Yin, a 56-year-old farmer in Yinjiatang Village, Changge City of Henan Province. The province is a major wheat producer in central China, accounting for about 25 percent of the nation's annual crop production.

The wheat output of his land was about 500 kg per mu. The mu is a Chinese unit of area, with one hectare equal to 15 mu. Yin has 6mu of wheatland.

From late October through early February, a severe drought hit major wheat-growing areas in China including Henan, threatening the harvest as large swathes of crops withered.

The State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said 1 to 6 mm of rain and snow has fallen over much of northern China this week, helping ease the prolonged drought. But crops and fields have been parched for a long time, so irrigation is still needed.

According to Henan drought relief authorities, the province actually had no rain for more than 100 consecutive days after Oct.24. The drought was exacerbated by winter temperatures in Henan, which were 0.9 degree Celsius warmer than in normal years. The drought has been Henan's worst since the founding of New China in 1949.

"After several years of good growing weather, many farmers here fell into the habit of relying on natural rainfall," said Yang Biantong, deputy director of the Henan Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters Office.

Many farmers, like Yin, didn't irrigate their fields, as they believed rain would finally come. Money was also a factor: river fees and energy charges mean irrigation costs about 10 yuan to 15 yuan per mu each time a farmer requests the service.

Two weeks ago, Premier Wen Jiabao visited Henan and inspected drought relief efforts near Yinjiatang Village. Wen told farmers to be confident in the drought relief campaign and strive for a good harvest in unaffected areas, a steady harvest in slightly affected areas and a small reduction of output in severely hit areas.

"We were encouraged very much by the premier's words and felt quite relieved as the country has mobilized resources to combat the drought," said another villager, Qiu Youcheng.

In rural areas of Changge, some 530,000 mu out of the 550,000 mu of wheatland has been irrigated by using well water, according to Ma Genqing, a Changge city water resource official. The city drilled more than 200 new wells for irrigation and now has about 1,100.

"With the new irrigation facilities, the drought won't have a major impact on this year's harvest as sunlight, important for wheat growth, is rich here," said Qiu, 36, while turning the soil around his crops to keep it from drying out.

In Gangli Village, Shigu Town, two irrigation wells have gone dry and the remaining two wells are yielding less water. Staff of a provincial geology and mining team are helping the village drill a new deep well. The new well will cost about 200,000 yuan and be completed in a week.

The village has about 800 mu of wheatland with irrigation facilities but only about 700 mu has been irrigated, according to Liang Xilin, a village official.

"Although we've had about 6 mm of precipitation since Feb. 7, the wheat crop will still be affected by drought if we don't irrigate."

Meanwhile, in areas near the Yellow River, farmers have been using water from the river for irrigation.

An 850-meter channel was built in mid-January at Sanyizhai in Lankao County in Henan to divert water from the river to farmlands.

"As more water has been discharged from upstream reservoirs, the water flow at the Sanyizhai section rose to 800 cubic meters per second, compared with 300 cubic meters per second, over the past ten days," said Li Shiyue, an official in charge of the water diversion facility.

The project has irrigated 90 percent of the wheatland within its reach. "The withered wheat has revived," Li said.

As of Thursday, Henan had invested 1.46 billion yuan in drought relief efforts, according to the Henan Water Resources Department.

"The province will use all means possible to reduce drought losses and get a good wheat harvest this year," said Henan Vice Governor Liu Mancang.

The province has set a goal of 30 billion kg of grain this summer. Last summer, its wheat output exceeded that figure for the first time.

Henan got some precipitation this week but still has some 15 million mu of drought-affected wheatland, or one fifth of the total.

Source: Xinhua

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