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Commodity Intelligence Report
May 11, 2010

IRAQ: Near-Normal Wheat Production Outlook in 2010/11

A resurgence in winter grain cultivation in northern Iraq, after two consecutive years of drought decimated the region, is enabling the country’s grain production to rebound to near-normal levels in 2010/11. The rebound is especially pronounced in the governorate of Ninawa, historically the breadbasket of Iraq, which reportedly increased winter grain (wheat and barley) acreage by 370 percent this year following unusually favorable autumn rainfall which blanketed parched farmland with ample moisture. Highly beneficial rainfall and warmer than normal temperatures through much of the winter growing season provided generally ideal grain growing conditions throughout northern Iraq this year, ensuring a successful winter grain harvest. Crop development in Ninawa, Arbil, Dahuk, Sulaymaniyah, and At-Tamin was especially robust, with satellite imagery in April revealing unusually lush wheat and barley crops.

Winter grains are currently showing unusually strong development in northern Iraq, and normal to below normal development in the heavily irrigated governorates of central and southern Iraq. Major rainfed regions in the north that normally have thin crop stands and low yield potential are doing extremely well, with dense and vigorous crop vegetation evident in late April. Favorable rainfall has also encouraged regrowth in rangeland and natural vegetation, ensuring much improved grazing conditions for regional livestock. As in neighboring Syria and Iran, unusually warm winter temperatures have also hastened crop growth rates, with most areas showing grain crop development several weeks to a month ahead of normal. This implies that harvest will be early as well, and that the most moisture sensitive crop growth periods are already past. Typically, harvest activities begin in southern Iraq in early May and proceed northward to the Kurdish regions in early June.

Beneficial seasonal rainfall was the key reason Iraq was able to increase wheat production this year, as irrigation supplies along the Tigris and Euphrates were once again problematic. Government authorities in at least two major irrigated grain producing provinces restricted the acreage sown with winter grains. In Diyala and Al-Qadisiyah, which normally account for a combined 20 percent of national wheat production, agricultural officials report that irrigated wheat acreage declined 57 and 12 percent respectively. Given these conditions, favorable rainfall was even more important than normal for a good grain harvest. Fortunately, above normal rainfall predominated during the planting period from October through December, ensuring widespread success of crop establishment over most of the country. Thereafter, periodic light to moderate showers throughout the winter sustained crop development. Satellite-derived vegetation index data in April showed general crop development to be much denser and more vigorous than last year in northern Iraq, reflecting the ideal growing environment and signaling significantly increased grain production. The same data indicated very mixed conditions in central and southern areas, with either better or worse than normal conditions predominating on a localized level. USDA estimates that total wheat production in 2010/11 will reach 2.0 million tons, which is roughly equal to the 5 year average.

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 above, which illustrate winter grain conditions in Ninawa (non-irrigated) and Diyala (irrigated), it is apparent that crop conditions and yield potential are very mixed at the regional level. In general, crop yields are expected to be at near-record levels in the northern governorates, and average to below average in the central and southern producing areas. The graphs also highlight that peak crop growth occurred a few weeks to a month earlier than normal, and as a result harvest will be slightly earlier than normal.

While satellite-derived vegetation index data (NDVI) clearly show that northern producing areas are experiencing a sizable recovery in grain production, farmers in central and southern Iraq are having a less favorable growing season. Crops in the governorates of Babil, Wasit, and Baghdad appear to have better yield prospects than last year and average; Diyala better than last year, but worse than average; Al-Qadisiyah worse than last year and average. The red boxes in the NDVI map above illustrate areas in the irrigated grain belt experiencing the most significantly negative conditions compared to normal, much of which is the result of barren (unplanted) or poorly performing fields.

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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