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Commodity Intelligence Report
May 11, 2010

IRAN: Above-Average Wheat Production Outlook in 2010/11

Like its neighbors to the west in Iraq and Syria, Iran has experienced two consecutive years of drought and reduced winter grain harvests. As a result, the country has had to resort to record-level grain imports to satisfy domestic demand for food and feed grains and to rebuild stocks. The current 2010/11 winter grain growing season is turning out to be much more successful, with expectations for a substantial increase in both wheat and barley production. As illustrated in the map above, Iran’s winter grain growing regions are widely dispersed. It is uncommon to have favorable conditions in virtually all primary grain growing areas, but this is the case this year.

Near-normal to above normal rainfall over the bulk of the winter growing season, combined with warmer than normal temperatures, provided generally ideal grain growing conditions. Crop development has been excellent, with satellite imagery in April revealing that the majority of the grain belt was covered by well-developed wheat and barley crops.

Winter grains are currently showing unusually strong development in all provinces of the country. The important rainfed cropping regions of northwest Iran are showing excellent overall conditions, while major irrigated crops in southwestern regions are also showing substantial improvement from last year (when low irrigation supplies crippled production). Unusually warm winter temperatures have also hastened crop growth rates, with most areas showing crop development a month ahead of normal. This implies that harvest will be early as well. Typically, earlier than normal harvests imply that adverse growing conditions such as drought have occurred, and that crop yields will be below normal. However, in the case of Iran’s current growing season, warmer than normal temperatures coupled with wetter than normal moisture conditions will result in both an earlier harvest and higher yields. The national wheat harvest normally occurs from May to August, with crops at the higher elevations maturing the latest. One negative effect of the winter pattern of warmer than normal temperatures was that snow accumulation was unusually low this year. This could pose problems for irrigated summer crops which rely on snowmelt for recharging aquifers and reservoirs. However, the low snowfall has had no discernible impact on wheat crop potential, as winter rainfall has been near-ideal.

Beneficial seasonal rainfall conditions and increased availability of irrigation are spurring a significant increase in wheat and barley production this year. Rainfall was especially favorable from October through December, providing ample moisture for planting and early crop establishment. Satellite-derived vegetation index data in April showed general crop development to be much denser and more vigorous than last year, reflecting the ideal growing environment and signaling significantly increased grain production. USDA estimates that total wheat production in 2010/11 will reach 14.4. million tons, a 20 percent increase over last year, and well above the 5 year average of 13.2 million tons.

Vegetation index (NDVI) graphs are useful for gauging the growth, development, and production potential of agricultural crops. They are especially useful in years such as this in illustrating the timing of key growth phases and the crops potential yield. From the two graphs below, which illustrate winter grain conditions in Kermanshah and Fars (representing 21 percent of total Iranian wheat production) it is apparent that crop development is superior to last year and that crops are reaching peak growth stages earlier than normal. In the case of Kermanshah (primarily non-irrigated), crop development is a month early and the yield outlook is well-above average. In Fars (primarily irrigated), crop development is far superior to the past two growing seasons (where irrigation supplies sharply declined from continued drought) and is approaching the normal yield potential for the region.

A closer look at regional current vegetative crop development in both Kermanshah and Fars is illustrated by the two sets of images below. Based on knowledge of the location and concentration of agricultural lands, satellite-derived vegetation index data (NDVI) clearly show that generalized grain conditions are much improved on last year in key major producing regions. Though irrigated crop area in Fars apparently has not fully recovered to normal levels, it has increased relative to last year, while crop conditions and yield potential have substantially improved. This assessment, when performed on a local and regional basis across the breadth of the country, revealed similarly favorable crop conditions. It is apparent that a major recovery in winter grain production is underway in Iran.

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

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