China’s agriculture minister says winter wheat’s condition could be worst in history

A worker is seen next to a machine that transports newly harvested rice grains to a warehouse in Yangzhou, Jiangsu
FILE PHOTO: A worker is seen next to a machine that transports newly harvested rice grains to a warehouse in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, China, October 25, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

March 5, 2022

By Hallie Gu and Shivani Singh

BEIJING (Reuters) – The state of China’s winter wheat harvest could be the “worst in history,” the agriculture minister said on Saturday, raising concerns about grain supplies for the world’s largest wheat consumer.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the country’s annual parliamentary session, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Minister Tang Renjian said rare heavy rains last year delayed the sowing of about a third of the normal wheat acreage.

A survey of the winter wheat harvest conducted before the start of winter found that the quantity of the first- and second-tier crops had declined by more than 20 percentage points, Tang said.

“Not long ago we went to the grassroots to do a survey and many farming experts and technicians told us that this year’s harvest conditions could be the worst in history,” he said. “This year’s grain production is indeed facing great difficulties.”

The minister’s comments underscore concerns over China’s grain supply while the war between Russia and Ukraine, which together account for about 29% of world wheat exports, has disrupted supplies, causing wheat prices to soar to 14-year highs.

However, Tang is confident that China can secure a bumper crop of summer grains thanks to strong political and technical support and improving harvesting conditions for the grain.

Fueled by the Ukraine crisis, wheat prices in China rose to record levels this week on ongoing domestic supply concerns.

Tang’s comments also come as Beijing has refocused on food security, a long-standing priority for the central leadership that has gained prominence in politics since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

China’s state planner said in his own report at the parliamentary session that grain supplies remain tight despite consecutive good harvests in recent years.

To address the problem, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) report said China will ensure that the grain acreage stays above 117.33 million hectares (289.93 million acres) for the year.

China will also increase production of soybeans and other oilseeds, the NDRC said, reiterating top policy priorities in the agricultural sector.

The country will also build momentum to increase corn production, it said.

China’s corn imports surged to a record high last year amid rising domestic prices and low inventories.

China will guarantee the balance between supply and demand for grains, cooking oil, cotton, sugar and fertilizers through effective use of reserves and imports, the NDRC said.

China will allocate 41.639 billion yuan ($6.59 billion) in agricultural insurance premium subsidies in 2022, up 30.8% year on year, the Ministry of Finance said in another report.

At the beginning of the parliamentary session, Premier Li Keqiang said China will secure supplies of key agricultural commodities, including grains, this year.

Everyone must work together so that the country’s “rice sack” and “vegetable basket” are well stocked and we have secure food supplies for the people, Li said.

China will halt all attempts to use farmland for purposes other than agriculture, and especially grain production, to protect farmland and revitalize the seed industry more quickly, Li said in the government work report.

Li also said China will ensure that pig production is better regulated and ensure the production and supply of livestock, poultry, aquatic products and vegetables.

China’s vast herd of pigs has been decimated by deadly African swine fever, pushing pork prices to record highs and soaring consumer prices.

Since then, according to official data, China has quickly restored its pig herd to normal levels, but stabilizing production and prices has become a priority for the government.

($1 = 6.3188 Chinese renminbi yuan)

(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Shivani Singh; Editing by Jane Wardell and Christian Schmollinger) China’s agriculture minister says winter wheat’s condition could be worst in history

Caroline Bleakley

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