Link: Skip banner
Commodity Intelligence Report
December 15, 2008

MIDDLE EAST: Deficient Rainfall Threatens 2009/10 Wheat Production Prospects

The Middle East suffered a severe region-wide drought last year (2008/09 MY), with substantial crop losses reported from western Turkey and Israel through eastern Iran. In most areas the exceedingly dry weather pattern lasted from planting time in September through harvest in June, resulting in one of the worst agricultural droughts in recent decades. Total regional wheat production declined approximately 7.4 million tons or 19 percent. The only countries to escape significant year-to-year reductions in grain output were Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Saudi Arabia’s wheat crop declined modestly owing to planned reductions in sown area (not drought), whereas Turkey experienced an even more severe drought in 2007/08 and had crop yields actually recover slightly in 2008/09.

Wheat production would have fallen much more dramatically had not a significant proportion of the grain crop been irrigated in the Middle East’s major producing countries. Irrigated wheat acreage has gradually increased during the past few decades, providing some stability to annual foodgrain production, and preventing absolute catastrophe in severe drought years such as 2008. Irrigated wheat acreage now amounts to roughly 40 to 50 percent of total acreage in Syria, Iran, and Iraq, and roughly 20 percent in Turkey.

The worst affected regions are highlighted in the map to the left, and included nearly the entire cultivated wheat area in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Israel. Turkey was fortunate that its crop is widely dispersed, and much of it escaped the worst of the severely dry weather pattern. Rainfed wheat crops suffered extreme losses in all countries with the exception of Turkey, causing national wheat production declines ranging from 30 to 60 percent below the previous year. The drought was also severe enough to cause substantial declines in the region's stored irrigation reserves (reservoirs, groundwater, wells) and cause irrigated crop yields to fall in countries like Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The overall shortage of irrigation supplies continues into the current 2009/10 winter grain growing season, and has the potential to prevent a full recovery in crop production even if rainfall conditions improve.

Owing to the drought, Middle Eastern countries are forecast by USDA to increase wheat imports this year by 5.8 million tons or 72 percent over 2007/08. Both Syria and Iran were forced to enter the international market to buy abnormally large volumes of wheat this year, after having domestic production fall precipitously. As the 2009/10 winter grain planting season comes to a close in December, farmers and government officials across the Middle East are hoping for a substantial recovery in national grain production to help their domestic farm economies recover and to forestall the need for continued above-normal grain imports. As of mid-December 2008, it is evident that rainfall conditions have been mixed across the region, and that significant producing areas have experienced generally unfavorable planting conditions. Therefore, at this early date, it is uncertain whether wheat production will recover to nearly normal levels or not.

In general terms, autumn precipitation to date during the primary 2009/10 winter wheat planting period was much improved over last year in both Iraq and western Iran. Planting rains in Turkey, however, were lighter than last year, whereas in Syria and eastern Iran rainfall accumulations were as poor as last year.

It should be mentioned as well that though Iraq has received appreciably better rainfall than last year, it is believed that much of its major rainfed grain regions did not receive sufficient moisture to allow for normal planted acreage or the ability to sustain healthy crop establishment at this point. The country’s primary rainfed producing province, Ninewa, reportedly had large areas unsown as of late November. In addition, given the seriously depleted groundwater resources in Syria this year, its irrigated wheat area is expected to be reduced as a consequence. Rainfed wheat acreage in Syria is expected to make up a greater than normal proportion of total area, and planting rains have not yet been adequate to ensure normal crop establishment. At this early stage in the 2009/10 growing season, wheat yield potential is extremely questionable in many regions of the Middle East’s major wheat producing countries.


Given reduced irrigation supplies in general across the region, post-planting winter precipitation levels will be of even greater importance this year in determining the outlook for wheat production. The region showing the most favorable outlook to date relative to last year is western Iran, which accounts for roughly half of the country's wheat production. However, the rainfall profile in Iran’s remaining producing areas is as bad or worse than last year, putting the aggregate national output picture in jeopardy. In general, given current moisture conditions across the Middle East, the outlook for 2009/10 wheat production is uncertain in every major producing country. The region is going to need a general improvement in the amount and distribution of rainfall over the coming months to enable a nearly normal wheat crop.

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

For more information contact Michael Shean | | (202) 720-7366
USDA-FAS, Office of Global Analysis

Close Window