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Commodity Intelligence Report
October 31, 2006

China Winter Wheat Planting Situation - 2007/08 Season

The planting season is ending for China’s 2007/08 winter wheat crop, which was sown in September and October 2006 and will be harvested in May and June 2007.  Mostly dry and warm weather allowed for rapid planting progress, but soil moisture levels in the main production areas are low and additional rain would help promote emergence and tillering before the crop enters dormancy in December.

wheat distribution map

Planting Season Starts Well  

Winter wheat comprises about 95 percent of China's total wheat production.  The most important winter wheat provinces in China are Henan, Shandong, Hebei, Anhui, Jiangsu, Shaanxi, and Sichuan, located on the North China Plain and central China.  These seven provinces account for more than 80 percent of China's total winter wheat production.  Winter wheat is planted in the autumn following the harvest of summer crops such as corn, cotton or rice. 

The 2007 winter wheat planting season got off to good start.  Total summer rainfall had been near to above normal on the North China Plain, and soil moisture levels were close to average as of mid-September, when major planting activities began.  The only areas of significant summer drought were the Sichuan Basin and Yangtze River Valley.  Widespread showers and cooler temperatures in early September essentially ended the drought in these areas and greatly improving winter crop planting conditions.

The weather turned warmer and mostly dry later in September, allowing farmers to harvest their summer crops in a timely manner and quickly plant their winter crops (wheat on the North China Plain and wheat and rapeseed in Sichuan and the Yangtze Valley). Supplemental irrigation was needed for winter crop planting in Hebei, Shandong, Beijing, and Tianjin to compensate for the near-total lack of rainfall in September, as seen on satellite imagery.   Although subsurface soil moisture remained near normal levels through the month, surface soil moisture dropped close to zero in the Yellow River basin due to the unseasonably warm and dry weather.  Meanwhile, abundant rainfall (up to 2 inches) boosted moisture levels and aided planting in Sichuan, Shaanxi, Henan, Hubei, Anhui, and southern Jiangsu. 

Warm and Dry Weather Continues in October

In October, dry weather continued in the Yellow River Basin and extended into the Yangtze Basin.  Temperatures were unseasonably mild (3 to 8 degrees C. above normal through October 20), making it the warmest October since 2000.  Total rainfall was lower than last year in all areas, but it was not as dry as in 2001 and 2002, when a serious autumn drought covered the region.  Soil moisture as of October 20 was generally adequate in southern and western areas but became increasingly depleted in the north since September.  The North China Plain is now entering its dry season, and the chance of receiving significant rain in November is slim.  Winter crops in China normally go into dormancy in early December.  If they are not well established before the cold weather arrives, the crops become more vulnerable to winterkill and yields may be affected.

Comparative Rainfall by Province - July 1 through October 20, 2006

It should be noted that winter wheat is extremely resilient crop and can recover from autumn drought or flood with favorable spring weather.  Very dry planting weather in Fall 2001 and 2002 apparently had a minor impact on 2002/03 and 2003/04 yields, due in part to timely and abundant rainfall in the spring.  In contrast, unusually wet weather in Fall 2003 and 2005 caused local flooding and planting delays but provided abundant soil moisture that sustained the crop during dry periods in the spring. 

Planting Intentions

The Chinese government enacted several policies to encourage farmers to expand grain production following an unusually poor harvest in 2003/04 that caused grain prices to spike.  These policies, which included tax reductions, direct subsidies for inputs and high-quality seeds, and minimum support prices, have remained in effect for the 2006 fall planting season.  Despite this, Chinese sources are forecasting a drop in winter wheat planted area of 100,000 to 400,000 hectares for 2007, citing an expected increase in rapeseed area.  The largest decrease will likely be in Sichuan and the Yangtze valley, where rapeseed is concentrated.  Chinese officials are strongly promoting the use of improved wheat varieties, which generally have better milling qualities and higher yields than traditional types.  The percentage of total area planted to high quality wheat has increased from 39% in 2003 to 54% in 2006 and is expected to expand further in 2007.

In 2006/07, China produced an estimated 103.5 million tons of wheat, up 6 percent from last year.  The increase was due to higher planted area and record estimated yields. The first USDA estimate of China's 2007/08 crop production will be released in May 2007.  

Current USDA area and production estimates for grains and other agricultural commodities are available on PECAD's Agricultural Production page or at PSD Online.

For more information contact Paulette Sandene | | (202) 690-0133

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