Link: Skip banner
Commodity Intelligence Report

March 28, 2012

Dryness Continues in Northwest Africa's Largest Grain Producer, Morocco. 
Mostly Favorable Soil Moisture Conditions in Algeria and Tunisia.

Crop conditions in Northwest Africa are mixed for 2012/13 grain season as weather has split the region into halves with favorable conditions in the east (Tunisia and most of Algeria) and unfavorable conditions in the west (Morocco and western Algeria).  Normal rainfall ended in Morocco during November, leaving drought to overtake the area and crops struggling as soil moisture levels were nearly depleted in Morocco and western Algeria.  Conversely, Tunisia and eastern Algeria continued to receive frequent rain events and hence favorable moisture levels during the winter and spring.

Soil Moisture Levels:

Percent Soil Moisture

Surface Soil Moisture                                             Subsurface Soil Moisture

West (Morocco & Western Algeria)
During the current growing season (2012/13), widespread rainfall arrived on time in October and November 2011 throughout Northwest Africa. While the timing of the precipitation was favorable for field moisture and planting, too much rain fell on Morocco during this period, delaying planting. Precipitation throughout Morocco was significantly above average in November, delaying sowing activities into December and January, or preventing them altogether. Rainfall in Morocco dropped rapidly, however, to just minimal amounts by December, January, February, and early March. Only one major rain even occurred (end of January) during this time period.

While a cooler than normal winter helped to mitigate water losses, soil moisture levels in Morocco, as well as western Algeria were rapidly diminished because of the dryness. The unusually low temperatures that occurred in early and mid-February may have also harmed the crop by reducing head size, number of kernels, and the number of tillers. Early satellite vegetation indices from western Algeria and Morocco are poor, indicating less vegetation or less dense biomass. This is an indicator that the vegetation or biomass (and likely yields) in this region are struggling this year.  February and March rainfall is very critical for crop yields in Morocco as March is the typical reproductive period for the crop, when adequate rainfall is essential. While early April rainfall is still beneficial for grain fill in Morocco, much of the yield potential is likely already lost because the Moroccan grains crop is further along than crops in other areas of Northwest Africa, and has therefore suffered through dryness during critical stages.

East (Central and Eastern Algeria & Tunisia)
Last fall, rainfall was abundant and arrived mostly on time in the eastern areas of Northwest Africa, providing a good start for the crop as well as encouraging farmers to plant additional area. Later during winter, while rainfall was significantly reduced in Morocco, it continued to rain in the east – including in central Algeria, eastern Algeria, and Tunisia. Tunisia and most of Algeria benefitted from the increased rainfall, while Morocco and western Algeria suffered from winter dryness. Precipitation totals in Tunisia, and central and eastern Algeria have been average to above-average all season. Equally important, the timeliness of frequent rain events continued to deliver moisture to the plants at optimal times, being dispersed throughout the growth season and across the various crop stages.

An unusual snowfall occurred during February in Algeria with some areas seeing the first measureable snow in over fifteen years, but it is not expected to have caused damage to the planted grain crops. Cold temperatures during February, however, may have harmed yield potential by reducing the number of kernels and number of tillers. During February, flooding occurred in areas of Tunisia because of heavy rains and melting highland snows but agricultural losses are expected to have been localized and minimal.  April rainfall will be critical for the later stages of the crop cycle in Algeria and Tunisia, whose crops are harvested later in the season.

NDVI Time Series

MODIS NDVI Composite                            MODIS NDVI Anomaly Image

Individual Country Anomaly images:

Morocco                                  Algeria                                       Tunisia


NDVI Graphs:

Morocco Algeria, West Tunisia, North
Morocco, East Algeria, Central Tunisia, South
  Algeria, East  


Initial Outyear Projections by Various Sources

USDA's official estimates will not be released until May but there have been reports on poor crop conditions in Morocco in the press as well from a report compiled by the USDA attache in Rabat.  The attaché compiled a detailed report on the agricultural situation as seen from his perspective, but the estimates within the report are "unofficial" and not necessarily the USDA estimates that will be released in May.  Released on March 12th, the Morocco Grain and Feed Annual estimates wheat to be 2.3 million tons from 3.2 million hectares, down from 5.8 million tons and 3.0 million hectares last year.  The attaché's report also has barley production down to 0.9 million tons from 1.8 million hectares, compared to 2.3 million tons and 2.0 million hectares last year.

In reports picked-up by the news services, the head of National Institute for Agricultural Research in Morocco stated that, "the cereals harvest will not reach half of last year's level, This will be very difficult for farming in Morocco... Last year we produced 8.4 million tons of cereals.  We don't think that the harvest will exceed four million tons this year."

Extent of Grain Areas In Northwest Africa: Cereal Crops are concentrated along the coast and in the highlands

The Weather Challenge in Northwest Africa

Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia comprise the grain-producing nations of Northwest Africa. Morocco is typically the largest producer with between 50 and 60 percent of the crop, while Algeria and Tunisia produce the remainder. Wheat and barley are the primary cereals grown in this predominantly non-irrigated region, so yield and production are highly correlated to rainfall amount and frequency. The arrival of autumn rains to the southwestern Mediterranean coast marks the beginning of the grain season. These fall rains are the critical first component in a list of requirements necessary for grain production in Northwest Africa. Autumn rains are the signal that most farmers are waiting for to begin preparing fields for sowing. While some farmers sow prior to these rains, timely autumn rainfall in Northwestern Africa is no guarantee, so the investment involved in planting too early could be lost if seeds are sown into soil that doesn’t reach adequate moisture levels. The earlier that rain arrives (in October and November), the more likely a farmer will increase planted area, and the more likely the larger region will have increased grain acreage. While the warm climate of Northwest Africa provides a long planting window that can last into January, farmers know that later-planted crops risk stunted growth during the hot and dry summer which begins in May. Typically May is the end of the "wet" season and rainfall nearly stops.

The countries of Northwest Africa are some of the largest wheat importers in the world; even during bumper years, significant quantities of wheat must be purchased abroad as none of the countries is self-sufficient in wheat production. Besides significant rainfall during the fall for planting and emergence, late winter and early spring rains are critical for the proper development of the crop through the reproductive stage, which usually occurs between mid-March and Mid-April – depending on the region of Northwest Africa and weather conditions. Fungus or insect problems can occur if a pattern of heavy rains develop late in the season, followed by high temperatures. Another late-season challenge comes from Sirocco winds, or very hot, dry winds originating in the Sahara Desert that can blow over the Atlas Mountains and dry out and dramatically reduce a crop prior to it completing grainfill. Typically Northwest Africa's crops are harvested first in southern areas of Morocco during May and last in Tunisia in June and July. With the start of the harvest in May, Morocco is one of the first countries in the world to begin harvesting wheat each year.

USDA Production Estimates
Graphs showing USDA's estimates for area, yield, and production of grains in Northwest Africa through the 2011/12 crop year are below and also linked in the following table.  Official USDA estimates for the 2012/13 crop year will be released on May 10, 2012, with the first publications of the outyear by the World Agricultural Production (WAP). This monthly circular is published by analysts in the International Production Assessment Division (IPAD) of the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).  Much of this data, as well as trade estimates will also be included in the World Agricultural Outlook Board approved World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) publication.  As shown in the graphs below and linked in the table, Northwest Africa's crop production varies considerably from year to year, primarily due to the limited amount of rainfall and the variance and limits in the frequency of rainfall.  Imports into Northwest Africa's countries vary considerably each year based on these production fluctuations.

Graph showing area, yield, and production fluctuations in Northwest Africa over the last 11 years.

    USDA Estimated Annual Wheat Area,

Yield, and Production Data for Past Years:


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 Bryan Purcell | | (202) 690-0138
USDA-FAS, Office of Global Analysis

Close Window