Bumper wheat crop boosts confidence
With a bumper harvest in sight for this year, China is sowing the seeds for a fruitful 2005, planning to expand its acreage for wheat -- the nation's second most important crop after rice -- by 666,600 hectares.
The added area is expected to increase China's wheat production by at least 3.5 million tons, said Wang Xiaobing, an official with the Ministry of Agriculture.
Based on last year's official statistics, total winter wheat seedlings for 2005 will be expanded to 22.7 million hectares. In China, only 10 per cent of the wheat crop is sown in spring, according to Wang.
The wheat acreage expansion paves the way for the country to secure yet another bumper harvest, Wang said.
A good summer harvest usually means an advantageous agricultural production year, since the autumn harvest is generally used to offset losses from summer harvest shortfalls, experts said.
Summer grain wheat represents 23 per cent of China's total grain production.
This year, summer grain output has increased by 5 per cent year on year to hit 101.05 million tons, ministry statistics indicate.
With the increased summer grain counted, the country's output of food grain for the whole year is expected to reach the target of 455 million tons, Wang said.
Like last year, 2005 will be another key year for China to recover its grain production, which dipped from a record high of 512 million tons in 1998 to 430 million tons in 2003, according to ministry sources.
Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin earlier said in 2003 his ministry planned to increase grain output by 45 million tons in three years.
Upon reaching the goal, the country's grain output will total 475 million tons, a point generally regarded as being able to basically balance grain market supply and demand -- with a marginal amount of imported grain, Wang said.
China's winter wheat growing area has been shrinking from 30 million hectares in 1997 to 22 million hectares last year, figures from the ministry's information centre indicated.
The rational increases in grain products in recent months, plus the government's unprecedented support to agriculture, including offering direct subsidies to farmers, will lend incentives to wheat producers and help reverse reduction trends, according to Wang.
While stabilizing the chief wheat producing area along the Yellow and Huaihe rivers, the country will try to expand wheat-growing areas in southwestern and northwestern China, according to a statement from the ministry.
In addition to reserving more farmland for wheat, the ministry last week proposed 35 varieties of the crop to be disseminated throughout the country.
The strains, selected by a panel of experts, are characterized with features including high-yields, being able to produce top-grade wheat and resisting plant diseases like the devastating "yellow rust," according to Wang.
China imported 3.47 million tons of wheat, valued at US$790 million, in the first seven months of this year, customs statistics indicate.
The import volume is 19 times as much as that in the same period of last year, according to Zhang Bingzheng of the General Administration of Customs.
Wheat exports, on the other hand, plunged by 36 per cent to reach 585,000 tons, he said.
Cheng Guoqiang, a senior professor with the Development Research Center of the State Council, said the large amount of imports are used to replenish the country's depleted wheat depots, and to satisfy consumers' demands for special and top-grade wheat products.