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Commodity Intelligence Report
March 27, 2012

China - Status of 2012/13 Winter Wheat


China’s 2012/13 winter wheat crop was planted in September/October 2011 and will be harvested in May/June of 2012. Winter wheat accounts for about 94 percent of China’s total wheat output.  The top winter wheat-producing provinces in China (Henan, Shandong, Hebei, Anhui, and Jiangsu) are located on the North China Plain.  Other important winter wheat provinces include Sichuan, Shaanxi, Hubei, and Xinjiang.  (Figure 1)

According to China's Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), winter wheat planted area for 2012/13 rose by 47,000 hectares to 22.67 million hectares. Higher planted area was reported in Henan, Hebei, and Shandong provinces, which together account for about 50 percent of total sown area. 

Planted Area Forecast - 2012 (MOA)

Henan - 5.33 mha
Hebei – 2.41 mha
Shandong – 3.6 mha

The weather was favorable for wheat planting, emergence and tillering last fall on the North China Plain and Northwest China. Temperatures were mild and rainfall was abundant in most wheat areas both before and after the crop was sown. In November 2011, MOA reported that China’s winter wheat crop was growing relatively well, with the proportion of good seedlings up three to five percent from the previous year.

The crop entered dormancy in December on schedule and in good condition. The weather in January and February was cooler and drier than normal in most wheat areas, but soil moisture was adequate for the overwintering crop due to the abundant autumn rainfall.  The only exception was in an area of persistent drought in southwest China (Yunnan and southern Sichuan), a minor wheat-producing region. There was one episode of extremely cold weather during January, but the lowest temperatures did not reach the winterkill level of -17 degrees Celsius. Otherwise, average temperatures since December have been only 1-2 degrees Celsius below normal, with few extreme fluxuations. 

Weekly Average Temperature - North China Plain

2012 compared to 2011 and normal

Average Temperatures - North China Plain

Source:  Crop Explorer/CADRE

There has been a gradual rise in both temperature and precipitation since March 1, which has been very favorable for winter wheat as it emerges from dormancy.  Average temperatures in most wheat areas reached the 5 degree Celsius threshold by March 20, and the crop is now at the emerging/tillering stage in the north to early jointing stage in the Sichuan basin. Crop progress is slower than last year, but several days of clear and warmer weather after March 21 should enable the crop to grow at a faster pace. 

China Wheat Crop Calendar Map - March 20, 2012

China winter wheat crop calendar map - March 20

Source:  Crop Explorer

The China Meteorological Administration (CMA) has forecast maximum temperatures on the North China Plain will reach 20 to 22 degrees Celsius before the end of the month, a few degrees above normal.  However, cooler than normal weather is forecast to return to the region in early April.

Widespread light to moderate rainfall (up to 2 inches) covered most winter wheat provinces since March 1, and late-winter snow brought welcome moisture to northern and western production areas.  Total precipitation from March 1 - 21 was higher than normal and last year.  The cool and moist conditions have eased drought concerns and slowed soil moisture evaporation, thus reducing the demand for supplemental irrigation. 

A crop condition assessment conducted by (with the Chinese Academy of Sciences) in early March found that 57 percent of the wheat crop was rated equal to last year, 13 percent was worse, and 30 percent was better than last year.  Seedlings in Henan and western Shandong were showing signs of stress due to relatively low rainfall over the winter and low amounts of surface soil mositure.  On the other hand, the wheat crop in northern Anhui and Jiangsu was rated much better than last year, when the two provinces suffered from a "thousand year drought". 

Cumulative Precipitation - North China Plain

2012 compared to 2011 and normal

Cumulative precipitation - North China Plain

Source:  Crop Explorer/CADRE

On March 15, CMA reported that wheat in northern China had passed safely through the winter and yield prospects were good. The average yield of China’s winter wheat crop could rise 2 percent from 2011, or 4 percent more than the five-year average. CMA said the weather had been neither too wet nor too cold this winter in the major wheat production provinces like Shandong and Henan, and farmers were likely to have another successful harvest in summer 2012.  Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu predicted in early March that output would top 120 million tons this year, 2.5 million tons more than last year's official estimate of 117.92 million tons.

The USDA's first area and production estimate for China's 2012/13 wheat crop will be released on May 10, 2012.

Review - 2011/12 Wheat Area and Production

China reported a total wheat crop of 117.92 million tons in 2011/12, of which 110.8 million tons (94 percent) was winter wheat. The total 2011/12 sown area of 24.19 million hectares was down 0.27 percent from the previous year.  According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), summer grain production (mainly winter wheat) was lower than last year in Gansu, Ningxia, and Xinjiang provinces but higher in all other provinces. NBS reported that the winter wheat yield reached a record 4.9 tons per hectare in 2011/12 despite unusually dry spring weather that affected many of the major wheat-growing provinces. The record yield was only possible through the extensive application of irrigation water and cloud-seeding efforts on a massive scale. Although these efforts enabled the country to produce the record crop, it also significantly increased the production costs of farmers. These costs should be lower in 2012 given the more benign weather that has occurred to date.

China wheat production chart

Official USDA Data

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


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For more information contact Paulette Sandene | | (202) 690-0133
USDA-FAS, Office of Global Analysis

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