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Crops Threatened by Heat, Drought
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Warm winter weather combined with the prolonged drought that has gripped a wide swathe of China have put crops at risk across the country, officials have said.

Unseasonably high temperatures last winter caused wheat, the country's second most important crop after rice, to grow extraordinarily fast in many areas, making it more vulnerable to drastic weather changes, the Ministry of Agriculture said yesterday.

The average temperature during the past winter was minus 2.4 C, nearly 2 C higher than normal, official statistics showed.

The higher temperature has caused 3.1 million hectares of wheat, or 15 percent of the total area planted with winter wheat, to grow abnormally lushly, ministry official Wang Xiaobing said.

In addition the warm weather allowed insects and bacteria survive the winter, meaning farms could expect to see more pests and diseases this year, he said.

For example, at least 840,000 hectares of wheat, mostly in central China, are suffering from yellow rust disease, a kind of fungus that affects plants, according to ministry statistics.

"We must bring the infection under control or it could spread to other key grain producers, like Hebei Province in north China, Henan Province in central China and Shandong Province in east China," said Wang.

Wang said the ministry has urged local agricultural departments to prepare contingency plans for possible cold snaps and strong winds that may affect wheat seedlings.

Meanwhile, the drought that has stretched through the winter has adversely affected an even larger area.

At least 13.5 million hectares of farmland in China had been hit by drought by the end of last month, according to the latest statistics from the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

The situation has aggravated water shortages in north China and could affect spring ploughing, a Xinhua report quoted Tian Yitang, deputy chief of the headquarters' general office, as saying.

For example, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has 1.01 billion cubic meters of water reserves, less than half the total in normal years, the Beijing-based headquarters said in a release.

The Central Meteorological Station has forecast strong rainfalls in south China, and relatively more precipitation for the eastern part of Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality in southwest China in the coming 10 days, which will help relieve the drought in those areas.

Ministry of Agriculture official Wang said he believed the current drought would not make a significant dent in the country's grain production.

Wheat accounts for nearly 90 percent of the crops harvested in summer. Summer grain, mainly wheat and early rice, which is sown in spring, contributes to a quarter of China's total grain production, according to Wang.

The ministry has asked local areas to do what they can to relieve drought.

By the end of March, Shanxi Province in north China had dug at least 25,000 wells to water 213,300 hectares of farmland, according to the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

(China Daily April 4, 2007)

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