Heavy rain in China damages millions of tons of wheat

Prolonged rainfall on a scale rarely seen before is severely hampering wheat production in China, resulting in crops becoming infecting with blight and leading to preharvest sprouting.

Heavy rain in China damages millions of tons of wheat
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According to a report by South China Morning Post, the impact of the heavy rainfall would reduce the amount of wheat available for “food production at a time when food security is of paramount concern [in the world’s largest producer and consumer of wheat]”.

In central Henan province, millions of tons of unharvested wheat had reportedly been affected by the unusually heavy precipitation. The province accounted for more than 25% of that country’s wheat production, according to an estimate by local agricultural analysts, the report said.

“The damage from the preharvest deluge, which started on 25 May and stretched into the following week, prompted Henan authorities to set up a 200 million yuan (about R552 million) emergency fund to help farmers,” the report added.

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According to Ma Wenfeng of the Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultancy, such a phenomenon was normally only witnessed once every three or four years, but the extent of the area affected was rare.

He added that preharvest germination in wheat kernels, also known as sprout damage, had not only been reported by farmers in the province, but other wheat-growing regions such as Anhui, Hubei and parts of Shaanxi as well.

“Wheat has also been infected by blight, which brings higher risks of toxins and limits end-use applications, such as baking,” the report said. “At least 20 million tons of wheat have been affected by the recent rain and will be refused by food processing companies and probably end up as animal feed,” Ma explained.

In an effort to ensure food security, the Chinese government would likely be making large wheat purchases to ensure ample reserves, which was expected to result in steep price increases, according to Ma.

“It will push up domestic prices, and probably global prices as well,” he said.

South China Morning Post reported that wheat prices in China had been declining over the past year due to “good supply outlooks and surging imports, as the price of grain in overseas markets fell more than at home”.

China’s agriculture ministry was urging local authorities to accelerate the harvesting and drying of damaged grain. The ministry said in a statement that the authorities would be sending emergency teams to drain water from fields, speed up access by harvesters, and mobilise drying machinery to save as much of the crop as possible.