Drought's impact on wheat harvest "not significant": expert

08:46, March 01, 2011      

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The impact from a prolonged drought will cause no significant harm to winter wheat growth in China, even if it continues in some northern areas, the country's top meteorologist said Monday.

Zheng Guoguang, head of the China Meteorological Administration, told Xinhua that the drought, which started in October last year in major wheat producing regions in the north, had mainly affected the surface layer of soil, while moisture in deeper layers remained.

"Another round of rain and snow over the weekend in these drought-hit areas, and irrigation efforts by local governments are helping mitigate the impact of the drought," Zheng said.

"Only in some areas in Shandong and Henan provinces, the most severely- stricken provinces, is soil moisture inadequate for wheat growth," Zheng said.

The country's drought-relief authority Monday said affected areas had shrunk sharply after rain and snow since Friday.

As of Sunday, the total acreage of drought-hit crops in eight wheat-producing provinces was 37.82 million mu (2.52 million hectares), down 73.69 million mu from 20 days ago, when the drought was at its worst, the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters (SFDH) said in a statement on its website.

In recent years, extreme weather, such as floods, droughts, rainstorms, and low temperatures had caused average grain losses of 50 billion kg a year in China, with droughts causing the greatest harm, Zheng said.

However, China's grain output rose 2.9 percent to 546.41 billion kg last year.

According to government figures, a severe drought caused China's total grain production to drop 9.6 percent in 1997. Long droughts reduced grain output by 13 percent in 2000, and by 11.8 percent in 2001.

Zheng said extreme weather conditions had become more frequent in China with global climate change, increasing the threat to grain production and increasing instability.

Meanwhile, concerns about inflation had also grown, with the consumer price index up 4.9 percent in January from a year earlier, pushed up by a 10.3-percent surge in food prices due to rising demand and drought.

The government had mobilized people to fight the drought, and conducted cloud-seeding activities to induce rain, Zheng said.

In February, local governments had focused efforts on irrigating 117.5 million mu of crops, more than 40 percent of the total in the eight drought-stricken provinces, including Shandong and Hebei.

The central government has been encouraging cloud-seeding efforts to assist production by earmarking 7.5 million yuan to support cloud-seeding activities in drought-plagued provinces this month.

Zheng said local meteorological departments would continue cloud-seeding efforts in the coming months when conditions allowed.

"Agriculture is most vulnerable to climate change. China's major tasks should be boosting production and insuring food security," Zheng said.

He said the country should strengthen agricultural protection against natural risks by expanding food reserves, improving meteorological and natural disaster forecasting, and developing water-efficient irrigation technologies.

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