For the fifth straight year in a row, China's summer grain output looks set to fall, with farmers hit by a series of natural disasters and shrinking growing area.
Predictions for this year's production of summer grain -- largely wheat -- has been put at 95 million tons, down by 4 million tons on last year, said Jiang Xiangmei, an official with the Ministry of Agriculture.
Twenty percent of China's grain output consists of summer grain. The rest comes from crops harvested in the autumn.
The latest survey in 26 wheat-producing provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions has found that crop planting areas for summer harvests are 25.8 million hectares, down by 6.3 percent from 2002, said Jiang.
But the country is expected to bring in more top-grade wheat, as the acreage devoted to high-quality crop strains accounts for 34 percent of the total wheat-growing fields, up 7 percentage points on a year-on-year basis, she said.
Jiang said the chronically low price of grain in the market has prompted an increasing number of farmers to reserve more arable land for more lucrative crops like rapeseed plants.
Dwindling grain growing areas, drought in north China and regions along the Yellow and Huaihe rivers, coupled with persistent overcast and rainy weather in the south of China this spring, have also badly impacted summer grain production, said Jiang.
In 1999, China harvested 118.5 million tons of summer grain. Since then both growing areas and harvests have been diminishing, statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics indicate.
Asked if the harvest of summer crops will be influenced by the outbreak of SARS, Jiang said rural authorities have been organizing teams of tractors and harvesters to help bring in the crops. These moves mean that seasonal migrant workers, currently in various cities across the country, can remain where they are, rather than risk spreading SARS by returning to their home villages.
Han Jun, a senior expert with the State Council Development Research Center -- a leading government think-tank, said he believed the fall in harvests will not affect the domestic market situation, where grain supply outstrips demand, largely because of huge stockpiles.
Neither will it lead to an increase in grain imports this year, as the grain price on the world market is still high, and supply of domestic high-quality grain varieties is relatively abundant.
(China Daily May 29, 2003)