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Commodity Intelligence Report
February 15, 2006

Northwest Africa: 2006/07 Winter Grains Well Established

Elevation map of Nowrthwest Africa.Summary
Weather has been beneficial for the 2006/07 winter grains crop in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.  The two dominant grain crops in the three-country northwest Africa region are wheat and barley. Both crops appear to be well established in all three countries.

Seasonal rainfall, the most influential weather variable for Northwest Africa's crops, has been above-average all season. This has resulted in favorably high soil moisture levels in all three countries. It is a favorable, but uncommon occurrence when the entire region is experiencing better-than-average conditions at the same time. 




Northwest Africa
On average, Northwest Africa produces 2.7 million tons of barley and 6.8 million tons of wheat, of which about half (3.5 million tons) is durum wheat.  However, Northwest Africa rarely produces enough to cover domestic demand and relies heavily on imports.  Its geographic location places it south of many rain producing storm tracks, and just north of the Sahara Desert.  Many of its farmers won't attempt to plant winter grains if autumn conditions are too dry.  Additionally, sown fields can be abandoned if seasonal precipitation abruptly stops during the normal November-April rainy season.  Irrigation is limited, so depending upon the amount and timing of precipitation, yields from the mostly rainfed crop vary widely from year-to-year and from country-to-country. 

Overall, 2006/07 crop conditions are very good in Northwest Africa. Precipitation levels, soil moisture levels, and satellite derived biomass indicators all appear to be above average.  This assessment applies to all three countries and all of their individual agricultural areas.  News reports also indicate that last fall's planting in Northwest Africa went very well because of timely and abundant precipitation.  

Precipitation has continued to fall during the winter months in all regions, pushing favorably high late-fall soil moisture levels up even further.  A series of low pressure systems followed a southerly track across North Africa this season bringing unusually frequent storms.  The storms have often been slow moving soakers, drenching fields before moving east and allowing for sufficient drying time before the next influx of storms.  If moisture reserves continue to remain elevated into the spring, it would promote beneficial vegetative growth and act as insurance against possible future dry weather.  Temperatures have averaged slightly below normal (with no reports of freeze damage), keeping moisture demands low.  Nonetheless, the season is but half over, and when tillering resumes in March, more rainfall will be required to ensure continued crop development.  The period between late March and early April is the critical flowering stage in the plant's life cycle, requiring the most moisture as evaporation rates rise with temperatures and increased plant activity. 

The arrival of storms and showers in autumn marks the start of Northwest Africa's rainy season.  It also initiates fall field activities, including 2006/07 winter grains planting.  Field activities likely began after widespread rains doused the region in October.  However, a drying trend existed during much of November and into mid-December, likely delaying and somewhat limiting planted area.  Morocco has both a very long planting window that can stretch into January, and a mild winter that allows late sowings and slowed plant emergence to catch up with the normal calendar.  This season's abundant, late-fall through early-winter precipitation, promoted the emergence, growth, and establishment of winter grains. 

Southern Morocco is typically the driest growing region in northwest Africa, but it has fared particularly well this season.  Precipitation totals have been much above-average, raising soil moisture amounts to beneficially high levels.  The southern area, centered around the city of Marrakech, comprises a large percentage of Morocco's total agricultural land. This area includes a significant amount of barley, but productivity of the region can be highly variable.  The aridity of southern Morocco's climate is near the limit for sustaining crop growth. This creates a fragile dependence for its agriculture on scarce rainfall.  Eastward tracking storms frequently skirt to the north of southern Morocco, leaving the crops parched.   However, this season's relatively high rainfall totals, and its abundant soil moisture have made prospects quite favorable for the 2006/07 crop.  Morocco alone produces roughly 55 percent of the region's grains (wheat and barley). One-third of Morocco's wheat production is comprised of durum.  Last year was disappointing for Morocco's grain producers because what had looked to be a bumper crop turned into a lower-than-average harvest.  The rainy season was cut short when precipitation practically stopped for the season during January.  With virtually no spring precipitation and only scant  ground moisture available, yields quickly deteriorated.

Another area with very favorable 2006/07 conditions is Tunisia.  Precipitation has been near-average all season and in recent weeks, increased rainfall has soil moisture levels climbing rapidly.  The country's soil moisture level is nearly at its highest point in ten years.  The relatively small country of Tunisia typically produces 15-20 percent of Northwest Africa's grains.  Over 80 percent of Tunisia's wheat crop is durum wheat, and Tunisia's durum contribution comprises 30 percent of Northwest Africa's total durum production. 

Similarly, above-average seasonal precipitation has fallen from eastern to western Algeria, promoting beneficially high soil moisture supplies.  Algeria's croplands lie within a thin band that stretches along and just inland (within about 150 miles or 250 km) from its coast. The area that appears to be in the best condition (as indicated by satellite derived vegetative indices) the central coast, near the capital.  Algeria accounts for 25-30 percent of the region's grain production, with 65 percent of its wheat production being durum wheat.

SPOT Veg NDVI difference composite shows January 2006 vegetation vs. average. The image suggests that there is more/higher biomass overall this season than average.  Biomass is an indicator of yield potential. The image portrays increased biomass in greens and decreased biomass in reds.

Northern Morocco
Southern and Central Morocco
Western and Central Algeria
Eastern Algeria and Tunisia


Growing Region of Northwest Africa (SPOT-VEG satellite image).

Rainfall Data
According to data from the Climate Prediction Center, January precipitation in the Algerian cities of Batna and Algiers was 237 and 186 percent above normal levels, respectively.  In Morocco, precipitation was at 221 percent above average in Casablanca, and 380 percent above average in Marrakech.  Precipitation was also 43 percent above normal levels in Tunis, Tunisia.  NDVI composite images taken during the fall and winter by MODIS and SPOT show the crop to be in better than average condition.

Due to bad weather last year, the combined three-country region of northwest Africa produced 6.0 million tons of wheat and 2.0 million tons of barley, compared to the average of 6.8 million tons of wheat and 2.7 million tons of barley. 

Historic Production:

Grain Production by Country:

Grain production by country (five-year average)
Wheat (type) production by country (five-year average)

Current USDA area and production estimates for grains and other agricultural commodities are available on PECAD's Agricultural Production page or at PSD Online.  Initial estimates for 2006/07 will be released in May 2006. 

For more information contact Bryan Purcell | | (202) 690-0138

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