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Commodity Intelligence Report
July 20, 2015

Drought Cuts Rice Paddy Area in North Korea

The North Korean News Agency (KCNA) has reported that drought conditions during the spring 2015 planting season has resulted in less rice sown, along with stressful growing conditions for newly planted rice and other summer crops such as corn and soybeans. Statistics from the National Coordinating Committee indicated that 441,500 hectares of rice had been planted as of June 8, about 80 percent of the 543,500 hectares originally planned. In North and South Hwanghae provinces, which account for about one third of North Korea’s total rice area, plantings were down 80 percent and 58 percent, respectively. USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, using satellite imagery, has confirmed that transplanted rice area is rice area is significantly less than last year in these two provinces.

North Korea – 2015 Paddy Rice Crop Area Affected by Drought as of June 8, 2015 (hectares)

  Planned Area Lost Transplanted Affected by drought Percent
Pyongyang 15,045   12,497 1,489 11.9
S. Phyongan 84,234 3,988 71,366 11,240 15.7
N. Phyongan 101,084 925 98,796 8,592 8.7
Chagang 6,284 20 5,986 394 6.6
S. Hwanghae 144,500 14,640 107,590 85,893 80
N. Hwanghae 48,889 11,408 29,198 16,871 58
Kangwon 27,856 1,199 23,441    
S. Hamgyong 60,372 1,842 52,345    
N. Hamgyong 23,402   21,742 9,446 43
Ryangyang 1,412   908    
Nampo 27,420 317 17,693 2,320 13
Total 543,498 34,339 441562 136,245 30


Rice Area Losses Confirmed with MODIS and Landsat Satellite Imagery

Rice transplanting in North Korea normally starts in early May and is completed by the middle of June, which means that the planting window for the 2015 crop is essentially closed and rice area is unlikely to increase beyond the current level.
Using NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), a comparison of images (250 m resolution) from June 17, 2015 and June 14, 2014 shows that North Korea paddy rice area (represented on the images below by the dark green shaded areas near the coast and adjacent to major rivers) is lower than last year in North and South Huanghae provinces.

Landsat imagery (30 m resolution) was used to calculate 2015 paddy rice area in South Hwanghae (Namdo-Hwanghae) province, the most important rice-producing province in North Korea. Two images (June 9, 2015 and June 6, 2014) were classified, paddy rice area was identified, and total rice area was calculated for each date. According to this analysis, 2015 paddy rice area was down 34,666 hectares from last year, a reduction of 34 percent.

Paddy Rice Area (hectares) 2014      2015      Difference

South Hwanghae                      102,590   67,924    34,666

MODIS NDVI Identifies Crop Stress
The MODIS satellite-derived NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) is a measure of greenness that is used to monitor vegetative growth. NDVI values in North Korea’s rice-growing areas were significantly below average as of June 17, 2015 reflecting both lower sown area and poor seedling development.
In addition to rice, the low NDVI values also indicate stressful conditions for other summer crops such as corn, soybeans, and vegetables which were planted in April and May. North and South Hwanghae are two of North Korea’s most important corn-producing provinces, accounting for about 33 percent of total area and production. There have also been reports that drought had a negative impact on maturing winter crops (wheat, barley, potatoes) which are harvested in June.

The following chart shows NDVI values for southwest North Korea from April 1 through June 17, 2015 as compared to the 9-year mean. The low values in April are likely due to drought-delayed spring planting and emergence, as well as drought stress to winter crops at the flowering/filling stage. Timely rain in mid-May boosted vegetative growth, but subsequent dryness (through mid-June) had a negative effect on crop development. A similar pattern is seen in central North Korea (Pyongyang region) which also experienced drought this year. In contrast, NDVI values in northwest North Korea have been near to above normal. This region had more rain in June than other parts of the country and the vegetation responded favorably.
Southwest North Korea

Central North Korea

Northwest North Korea

Rainfall increasing in June – is the end of the drought in sight?
Total rainfall for southwest North Korea (South and North Hwanghae provinces) and northwest South Korea (Seoul region) from May 1 to June 9 2015 was less than 50 percent of normal. It was among the driest periods since 1983 and drier than the previous two years.

Since June 10, 2015 most of North Korea saw moderate to heavy rainfall, with some locations receiving more than 2 inches in a single day. A few locations in South Korea also received beneficial rain during the period, although the country remained mostly dry. The rainfall from June 11-20 raised the cumulative rainfall total for the spring 2015 season to near-normal levels in the North, although more rain will be needed to erase the long-term rainfall deficit that dates back to the fall of 2014.

The arrival of rainfall in mid-June may indicate that the summer rainy season has arrived and the drought conditions on the Korean peninsula will diminish.

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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