FEATURE COMMODITY ARTICLES
Foreign Winter Grain Area Projected Higher for the 2000/01 Crops
This article presents early indications of Northern Hemisphere winter grain prospects outside the United States based on reports from U.S. agricultural attaches stationed overseas and analysis by Washington-based USDA personnel. A special thanks goes to the World Agricultural Outlook Board/Joint Agricultural Weather Facility who have continually supplied FAS with world agricultural weather information and analyses. The first forecast of 2000/01 area, yield, and production for wheat and coarse grains will be released May 12.
Summary: Total foreign winter grain area for 2000/01 most likely will be higher than the area achieved in 1999/2000, although there are regional differences. Changes in the European Union (EU) Common Agricultural Policy has encouraged producers to plant more wheat and less oilseeds. In the EU, with the exception of Spain, yield prospects are favorable based on weather to-date. In Russia, winter grains area is reportedly higher than last season and winterkill losses are down. Farms, however, are still operating under severe cash shortages. In the Middle East, winter grain crop prospects are favorable for Turkey, but guarded for Syria, Iraq, and Iran due to below normal rainfall. In Pakistan, area is projected to increase as a result of new procurement prices established by the government. Crop prospects are very favorable. In Eastern Europe, winter grain area is projected higher than 1999/2000 due to more favorable planting weather than a year earlier and conditions are generally favorable for normal crop development. However, financial constraints continue to plague producers in many countries. In Ukraine, the area planted to winter grains is reportedly down from last season and crop prospects are guarded due to fall dryness and financial constraints. For India, dry weather in western states may have marginally reduced wheat area. Mild weather across the main northern growing areas boosted crop prospects. In Pakistan, area is projected to increase as a result of higher procurement prices established by the government. However, low reservoir levels have mitigated yield potential. For China, area is projected lower due to government policy encouraging higher quality wheat and cash crops. However, yield prospects are favorable due to adequate soil moisture throughout most of the season to-date. In Northwest Africa, favorable planting weather gave way to drought and crop prospects have diminished. In Mexico, low reservoir levels may constrain wheat yield potential.
China: (AVHRR image of winter wheat on the North China Plain emerged from dormancy and is growing well) Winter wheat area (which accounts for 85 percent of Chinas winter grain production) is projected to decline in 2000/01, according to a planting survey released by the State Statistics Bureau. Chinas winter wheat area is reportedly down about 1.8 million hectares or 7 percent from last year; however, some recent reports suggest that actual area may not be cut as much as previously expected. Sharply-lower wheat prices and changes in the governments procurement policy led farmers along the Yangtze River to switch from low-quality winter wheat to winter rapeseed and other cash crops. Winter wheat area in western provinces and spring wheat area in the Northeast is also forecast lower in 2000/01.
Planting for the new crop began in mid-September in the northern part of the growing region and was completed in southern areas by the end of October. Scattered showers provided adequate moisture for germination and emergence over most of the North China Plain, through dryness was a concern in northern and western wheat areas. Reports indicated that the crop entered dormancy in good condition. Light snow cover protected the dormant wheat from frigid temperatures in December and January, and no winterkill damage was reported. The weather since January has been generally favorable. Precipitation across the North China Plain was close to normal in January and February, except in western Henan, western Hebei, and parts of Shaanxi, which remained dry through the winter. Warm and dry weather in March reduced soil moisture levels on the North China Plain and increased the need for supplemental irrigation, but drought conditions have not developed. Rainfall in southern wheat areas has been mostly abundant and soil moisture levels are moderate to high. Yield prospects are favorable at this time.
European Union: Winter grains area for 2000/01 in the EU is projected to increase significantly from last season. Changes in the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) support prices for grains and oilseeds makes it more advantageous to grow grains this year. Therefore, producers are expected to shift area away from oilseeds and into grains, especially wheat. Yields are expected to be down from last years unusually high yields which were the result of very favorable weather. Unseasonably warm temperatures this spring caused grains in western Europe to break dormancy several weeks early, just as they did last year. There was little snow cover to protect dormant winter grains this winter, but temperatures were so mild that there was little danger from winterkill. Temperatures have been so mild that some EU countries are concerned that it could enhance the development of fungal diseases and insects later in the growing season.
In Germany, planted area for grains is expected to rise significantly this year, especially for wheat. This increase follows a drop in grain area last year caused by excessive rainfall during planting. Precipitation has been normal through the fall and winter with more favorable rains in the west. French area planted to winter grains is projected up over 1999/2000. France had less precipitation than normal in the south, but most of the winter grains are grown more in the north. The north experienced excessive rainfall in December and February and below normal in January, but it does not seem to have harmed the crops as plant growth is reportedly more advanced than at the same date in 1999. Area planted to winter grains is expected to be up in Spain and Portugal as there were favorable rains in September and October during planting. However, they received very little rain from November through mid-March, and moisture supplies were further diminished by unusually warm temperatures. Producers feared an even more devastating drought than last year, and like last year, the southern regions of both countries were the most severely affected. These southern regions were warmer, and crops break dormancy at an earlier date. Andalucia, which grows half of Spain's durum crop, received only one-quarter of its normal cumulative rainfall from planting through mid-March. Rainfall over the last few days of March and early April brought some relief to the crops. Yield prospects at this point appear to be similar-to or slightly better than last season. More rain is still needed to prevent further damage. In Italy wheat area is expected to be nearly unchanged for 2000/01; however, durum area may be slightly higher while soft wheat is lower. Italy was also dry for much of the winter, especially in the Po River Valley. Early April brought generous rainfall for northern and central Italy, relieving fears of drought. The United Kingdoms area planted to winter grains is projected to be up over last season as farmers switch from rapeseed. Planting of better quality varieties continues to increase in the UK. The important grain growing region in the southeast of England had near-normal rainfall and above-normal temperatures over the winter. Winter grain planted area is expected to return to pre-1998/99 levels in the Benelux countries. Last seasons heavy rains kept fields too wet to plant and caused a significant loss of area. Rain has been plentiful during this winter with mild temperatures. Last years Scandinavian winter grains area was low due to low soil moisture following a dry fall and winter. Producers planned to return to 1998/99 planting levels this season, but yields may be tempered by excessive dryness in portions of the grain growing area in Sweden.
Canada: Most of the winter wheat is grown in the province of Ontario and comprises less than 5 percent of Canadas total wheat crop. Ontarios planted winter wheat area is projected to be near the same level as last year, but production is expected to decline after last years record yield. Unseasonably mild weather since late December, combined with adequate snow cover, lowered the potential for winterkill. However, seasonal precipitation has been below normal in the main winter grain area of southeastern Ontario, and timely spring rains will be needed as crops advance through the heading phases of development. Most of the small grain crops are grown in the Prairie Provinces, so spring rainfall is critical to provide soil moisture for the upcoming summer crops.
Russia: (FSU soil-moisture map for 11/8/99 showing the dry conditions during the winter-grain establishment period) In Russia, winter grains were sown on approximately 13.4 million hectares for 2000/01, up from 12.3 million last year, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture. Establishment conditions were generally favorable. Timely October rains reversed the dryness that prevailed during much of the planting season, and winter crops entered dormancy in good condition. A mild winter along with near- to above-normal precipitation favored overwintering crops. Although there were some brief episodes of bitterly cold weather that threatened winter grains, an adequate snow cover protected crops from significant winterkill. According to analysts at Russias Federal Weather Center, winterkill losses are down from last season: winter grains need to be replanted on 7 to 10 percent of the sown area, down from an estimated 15 percent last year.
According to the U.S. agricultural counselor in Moscow, the situation regarding agricultural inputs for Russian farms has improved only slightly from last year. Resource constraints persist, and farms are still operating under severe cash shortages. Supplies of fertilizer have increased from last year, but soil fertility remains low following years of inadequate fertilizer applications. The price of imported plant-protection chemicals is prohibitively high, and farmers are forced to use lower-quality domestically-produced products. Agricultural machinery and fuel remain in short supply. Although the outlook has begun to improve in some regions, including the North Caucasus (Russias prime winter-wheat region), the overall poor financial condition of the agricultural sector will continue to impede improvement in grain yield and quality.
Ukraine: According to Ukrainian agricultural officials, approximately 7.4 million hectares of winter grains were sown for 2000/01, down from 7.6 million the previous year. Unfavorable dryness hampered winter-crop planting and establishment throughout most of the country. The dryness was most acute in south-central growing areas. Although crops in eastern Ukraine received some of the beneficial moisture that fell in the neighboring North Caucasus region of Russia in early October, drought conditions worsened in south-central Ukraine. Officials reported in early February that roughly 1.5 million hectares of the sown area did not sprout and would need to be replanted in the spring. Subsequent reports indicate that crop conditions have since improved, due to mild winter weather accompanied by near- to above-normal precipitation. Timely spring rains and mild weather will be needed to further improve crop conditions.
In Ukraine, as in Russia, chronic below-optimum applications of fertilizer and plant-protection agents will hamper winter-grain yield. Winter-grain production fell to the lowest level in over 30 years in 1999/2000, and the U.S. agricultural office in Kiev reports that prospects for significant improvement are slim, with struggling farms unable to purchase quality seed, fertilizer, pesticides, or fuel.
Middle East: (Rainfall anomalies map shows dry weather across the region.) Turkeys grain production prospects for 2000/01 is are currently favorable, although normal rainfall is needed the remainder of the growing season to ensure proper development. Plantings are similar to last season. Following a drier-than-normal autumn, a return to a more seasonable pattern brought beneficial precipitation to the region. Snow cover throughout the grain growing region during the winter was beneficial and, when combined with cold weather, should lessen the impact of pests in commonly infested areas. Wheat is the largest crop and barley the second largest crop in Turkey, with the Central Anatolia region growing more than any other region (about 40 percent). For Iran and eastern Syria, rainfall throughout most of the season has been below normal for most of their grain regions, but over last years levels. Recent March rain in northern Iran could help stabilize the 2000/01 wheat prospects, but more rain is needed across the entire region. The 2000/01 wheat crop in Syria has experienced long-term dryness, but rainfall in late January across the eastern growing region temporarily improved crop production prospects. A return to dry weather in February stressed the crop until recently, when light showers helped to stabilize the grains. Production prospects for the non-irrigated crops remain guarded as it begins the heading phase of development. About 40 percent of wheat area is irrigated, while all the barley is rainfed. Rainfall across northern Saudi Arabia has been favorable for pasture conditions and may lessen the need for feed grain imports. Satellite imagery and weather observations from neighboring countries depicted unfavorable dryness in Iraq during late February and March. Wheat and barley production is likely to be similar to last years poor crop.
Pakistan: Portions of Pakistans 2000/01 irrigated wheat are experiencing a water shortage. Following last seasons weak monsoon, main reservoir levels are reported to be at historic lows. Production prospects now point a crop size similar to last year, despite an increase in area. The single most important factor for the positive outlook is the governments 25 percent increase in the procurement price of wheat to Rs. 7,500 (about $145) per metric ton. As a result of the sharp increase in the procurement price, farmers: (1) increased fertilizer usage and seeding rates (sources estimate consumption of phosphatic fertilizers increased 40 percent due to the expected higher returns as well as to lower fertilizer prices and better availability), and (2) planted more wheat (by switching out of sugarcane due to falling cane prices) and planted on a more timely basis (by limiting the third cotton picking due to low cotton prices). Additionally, as a result of the armys campaign to de-silt irrigation canals, better irrigation supplies and adequate soil moisture at planting have been highly favorable for the crops. Timely winter rains have boosted prospects for rain-fed production(which accounts for roughly 16 percent of total wheat production). Relatively cool weather through the third week of February has helped to improve prospects for the late-planted crop. Thus far, there have been isolated reports of rust affecting minor varieties. Temperatures through early April, which are important determinant of yield, have been normal. The crop requires a gradual increase in temperature during flowering and filling. Sharp temperature increases during this period will diminish yields. Harvest has begun in Sindh, but thus far through the first few weeks of harvest, procurement has been behind the pace of previous years.
India: (SPOT 4 vegetation index indicates less vigorous vegetation compared to last year.) Indias winter wheat output for 2000/01 is projected to be similar to last seasons record output of nearly 71 million tons. Indias 2000/01 wheat planting took place during the optimal planting period (mid-October to mid-December) in most states. Below-normal rainfall during the summer monsoon in Rajasthan and Gujarat resulted in a decrease in Indias wheat area. The crop in the two largest surplus wheat growing states of Punjab and Haryana are in good condition, and may approach last years record production. A promising outlook exists in most other states, particularly Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Wheat production in these central states is likely to partially offset any shortfall in western India. The average to slightly cooler temperatures during the first two weeks of March will benefit this seasons final yields and promote quality. Final grain quality will depend on weather conditions from now until harvest. Overall, above average wheat yields are expected due to the increasing use of certified seed, herbicide availability, excellent temperatures and relatively timely rainfall in most regions. About 80 percent of India's wheat crop is at least partially irrigated, but irrigation facilities are not as widespread in marginal surplus states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where the crop is more dependent on winter rains.
Eastern Europe: Total winter grain area in most of Eastern Europe for 2000/01 is projected to be higher than last years flood-reduced area. However, input costs and financial difficulties remain the limiting factors as credit is becoming increasingly more difficult to obtain. In turn, farmers in countries most strapped for money are continuing to forgo fertilizers and crop boosting measures, inevitably leading to stagnating yields.
As a whole, the weather has been primarily beneficial to winter grains since their sowing last autumn. Southeastern Europe started the crop season with an extended period of dryness during September and October, which lengthened the sowing period and delayed emergence. Adequate moisture levels were maintained across the north throughout the fall and winter. The south recovered moisture later in the fall. The second half of November saw unseasonably cold weather and snow slowing development and placing crops into dormancy. A mostly mild winter produced temperatures averaging slightly above normal. A few cold outbreaks occurred during periods of snowcover and/or remained above the winterkill threshold, inflicting little crop damage. Often snow cover was marginal, but temperatures remained high, and crop protection was not required. Total moisture levels over the winter have tended towards average and were adequate for the spring emergence. Recently however, a warm spring has enabled crops to begin easing out of dormancy early throughout Eastern Europe, and snowmelt coupled with spring rains have caused localized flooding in Hungary and Romania.
Specifically, winter grain area planted in Poland for the 2000/01 is expected to have fallen from last years level. A mild winter has resulted in little winterkill and spring rains are normal. Yield prospects are tempered by a lack of available credit that continues to hampers farmers efforts in securing fertilizer. Winter wheat area in the Czech Republic is expected to increase. After much of Eastern Europe suffered from a dismal 1999/2000 wheat season, wheat demand is expected to rise and Czech farmers are expected to take advantage of the market, sowing more area to wheat and increasing total winter grain area. Likewise, realizing that high quality wheat is demanded outside Hungary, particularly after a disappointing regional crop throughout most of Eastern Europe last year, Hungarian farmers are projected to increase area. An added incentive to grow more wheat in Hungary came as the government announced that it would subsidize seeds. Although spring flooding damaged winter grain area in Hungary, the damage inflicted so far this year is much less severe than last year when repeated flood and storm damage throughout the crop season severely reduced last years wheat crop to one of the lowest levels in many years. Winter grains in Romania are projected to increase slightly as weather conditions are much better than 1999. Winter wheat area in Bulgaria for 2000/01 is projected to be lower than last season. A favorable autumn and winter should benefit the crop, but inputs such as fertilizers will be critical to lift yields. Currently, farmers are lacking the capital to purchase vital inputs, and the fertilizer/chemical plants are also experiencing financial difficulties which could lower their sales. For former Yugoslavia, Serbia-Montenegro are projected to increase sown area to winter grains. However, high cost of farm inputs will again limit their use and mitigate yield potential. After one of its worst harvests in thirty years, Croatia is expected to rebound in wheat area this season and more fertilizer supplies have been acquired. Yield potential is expected to rebound following a poor outturn in 1999/2000. Slovenia is also expected to increase area after a cold rainy 1999/2000 season produced less desirable wheat, which yielded unusually high moisture content. In Bosnia-Herzegovina winter grain area is expected to decline as input costs rise, but the same floor price for wheat is maintained, thus lowering incentives for planting.
Northern Africa: (Analysis of this AVHRR composite indicates vegetation stress in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) Winter grain crops in portions of Northwest Africa are projected to suffer from a second straight year of below normal rainfall. After receiving nearly optimal weather conditions from early rains arriving in October and lasting through mid-December, Moroccan farmers finished planting winter grains in December. Crops were planted under ideal soil moisture levels and production expectations were high. However, rain has been practically nonexistent since the beginning of January. Rainfall during the first two months of this year averaged 25 millimeters or just 23 percent of normal. Soil moisture levels are depleted and further rain will not save the Moroccan grain harvest. Harvest is expected to begin early after a warmer than average growing season, but the results are certain to be a disappointment.
Algeria received beneficial weather for sowing, however it was delayed a month because abundant rains didnt arrive until November. Western Algeria has been perpetually centered under the same high pressure system as Morocco. While re-routing storm systems away from the country, the high also inflicted Western Algeria with above average temperatures. These temperatures have increased the evaporation of scant moisture levels. Little rainfall has occurred since the beginning of January and like Morocco, any future rain will be too late for the moisture starved plants. Eastern regions of Algeria have fared somewhat better as occasional shower activity has kept soil moisture levels adequate for development of winter grains. However, as dryness continues over all of Northwest Africa, more rainfall is needed immediately.
The best over-winter conditions in the Maghreb have been enjoyed by Tunisia, which has experienced more rain and more frequent rainfall. Occasional showers and infrequent rains during winter and early spring has given Tunisians hope in attaining an "average" crop if rains arrive in April. The wheat crop grown in the northern zones have received more regular precipitation than the barley areas. Crop prospects are better for wheat than barley, which is grown on marginal land.
Projections for Egyptian winter grains is that area should remain the same as last year. Yields should edge upward as higher yielding varieties are planted and better farming practices are utilized. All the wheat is irrigated.
Mexico: (Vegetative index in NE Jalisco is less than last year.) The 2000/01 winter wheat area is projected to be slightly higher than last season, but yield prospects are guarded due to what the Mexican National Water Commission (CNA) has termed a shortage of rain in 1999, and some municipalities in the northern and central states have reportedly instituted water rationing. The irrigated wheat areas of northern Mexico began the fall/winter season well, as reservoir levels in November were high enough coming out of the rainy season (May-October 1999) to allow CNA to release water at planting. However, reservoirs levels were still below normal. At the end of January 2000 (into the dry season), the reservoirs were down significantly in every Mexican irrigation district. The northwest region experienced a drop to 25 percent of normal for that period, and the levels were even further down by the end of February 2000. The need for water coming out of winter dormancy may have placed the wheat crop in jeopardy, as it is not clear that CNA will authorize the release of spring 2000 allocations. Better than 90 percent of Mexicos annual wheat production comes from the fall/winter cycle, and the northwest accounts for about 40 percent of the fall/winter production. In addition, Mexicos south central reservoirs related to agriculture need to be replenished, although this area has received scattered rainfall.
Timothy Rocke, Foreign Grains Chair
Telephone: (202) 720-1572
Suzanne Miller, Europe and Canada Analyst
Telephone: (202) 720-0882
Bryan Purcell, Eastern Europe and Northwest Africa
Telephone: (202) 720-0882
Paulette Sandene, China Analyst
Telephone: (202) 690-0133
Mark Lindeman, FSU Analyst
Telephone: (202) 690-0143
Ron White, Mexico Analyst
Telephone: (202) 690-0137
Jim Crutchfield, India and Pakistan Analyst
Telephone: (202) 690-0135
Curt Reynolds, MiddleEast Analyst
Telephone: (202) 690-0134
Tunisia Field Travel: Moroccan Drought Caused Grain
Losses, but Tunisia May Recover
During the second half of March a USDA team traveled through the main agricultural regions of Morocco and Tunisia. The purpose of this trip was to assess winter grain (wheat and barley) conditions in Northwest Africa. The team spent most of the trip on field travel, often stopping to talk with farmers to gain insight into this seasons crop. Additionally, meetings with government officials assisted the team in understanding the current situation. The trip coincided with the second straight drought season experienced in Morocco, with the 2000/01 season more severe. For the 1999/2000 season, Morocco produced 2.1 million tons of wheat and 1.4 million tons of barley. In Tunisia, recent rainfall has averted a below average crop; however, more rain is still needed to improve crop prospects. For 1999/2000, Tunisia produced 1.4 million tons of wheat and 0.4 million tons of barley. On May 12, USDA will release the first forecast of 2000/01 area, yield, and production for wheat and coarse grains.
(Click on image to expand. Maps show decreasing soil moisture.)
Morocco (March 19 - March 22)
The team started in Casablanca and traveled south to Marrakech. During the initial leg of the trip it became quickly apparent that the winter grains were struggling from a severe lack of rain. The non-irrigated wheat had not headed. The soil was dry with large cracks that crisscrossed the fields. According to a local farmer, since the rains shut off in early January, weeds never had a chance to develop, so herbicide was not needed nor used. In a "normal" year fertilizer would have been used, but according to him, it would have been of little benefit during this dry period, so it was also forgone.
(Click on image to expand. Graph shows prolonged dry weather for Marrakech.)
Rains arrived early during the autumn season, so winter grain planting started earlier than usual. With the October start to the season, optimistic expectations led to an increase in planted area. Most of the countrys agriculture is entirely dependent upon rainfall occurring at the right times during the growing season and by March, it was apparent that a second straight year of drought destroyed any expectations of a good crop, and that a very poor crop would be realized.
Although the vast majority of field crops are rainfed, there are however, limited pockets of irrigation. The dominant type of irrigation here is flood irrigation. It is practiced in some of the fields, but the use of this greatly limited resource in such an arid climate requires strict management. Farmers can only flood their fields during the most critical times in the hopes that this will maximize results of scant water supplies. Typically, diesel pumps bring deep well water to the surface. The water then flows to the fields along elevated and open troughs that release the water to ditches traversing the fields. The observed fields that had flood irrigation were in fair to good condition, while those without were drying down prematurely.
South around Marrakech, wheat is often replaced by barley, as the soil became more rocky, and where rainfall is typically less frequent. The team took a short drive south of Marrakech into more elevated terrain. The barley crop along the hills was still developing, but looked to be in good condition. The orographic effect from the nearby mountains and the increase in elevation obviously squeezed additional moisture onto the fields, saving them from the fate of the crops below.
Following the major growing area, the group drove northeast and parallel to the western edge of the Atlas Mountains, passing through the towns of Kelaa Sraghna, Beni Meallal, Kenifra, Ifrane and Fes. During an early stop along this segment, the observed crop was heading and looked fairly well because it had been flood irrigated. Additionally, a producer said that he had used fertilizer, but no pesticides. The predictable result was a promising crop, but on a field infested with many weeds.
Further along, the team stopped at a much more common sight, a non-irrigated field. The thin crop grown showed little- to- no tillering. Checking the grain heads revealed many blanks. This was a typical scenario. Many of the crops viewed were now without heads and often dead. Occasionally, sheep were permitted to graze the crop when fields were determined unfit for harvest.
Towards Kenifra (830 m) and on to Ifrane (1650 m) the effects of elevation were dramatic on the condition of the crops. They were no longer dried out, but green and growing fairly well. The increased altitude was enough to increase cloud cover and rainfall, which in turn increased soil moisture, induced cooling and lowered the evaporation rate. While the plants were not dense (3-4 tillers per plant), they were healthy and just beginning to head. However, the soil was more marginal and contained many stones lying on top of the soil throughout the fields.
(Click on image to expand. Graph shows severe precipitation deficit for Fes.)
Dropping in elevation around Fes, fields again showed drying down and the wheat was without heads. Many of the fields were dead, but depending upon when the crop was planted, sections remained green and could still be salvaged. Apparently, if any moisture arrived at just the right time in the crop stage, the crop was saved from prematurely drying out. An estimated one-fourth of these fields will produce grain at harvest if rain is received immediately. (Recent rainfall has stabilized the crops in this area.) Finally, going west towards the Atlantic coast, and through a major agriculture production zone around Meknes and Rabat, the fields were noticeably larger, the soil was better, and the crop condition improved.
Tunisia (March 24 - March 27)
Tunisia was more fortunate than Morocco in the amount of rain received, and the timing of the rainfall throughout the season. A month after rains began in Morocco, precipitation arrived in Tunisia. Farmers began sowing with the arrival of these November rains. Good planting weather with abundant rain continued through December. Starting in January, the rains lessened in amount and frequency, but occasional showers still maintained adequate moisture levels throughout the winter and into the early spring, unlike the extreme conditions further west in Morocco.
(Click on image to expand. AVHRR image of eastern Algeria and Tunisia.)
The predominant field crop region (consisting of wheat and barley) is situated along the northern coast, extending south up to about 200 km. Three-fourths of Tunisian wheat is durum, while only one-fourth is soft wheat, therefore Tunisia looks to imports to fill its bread wheat demand.
The USDA team set off from Tunis and traveled through the primary growing region by taking a route through Bizerte, Beja, Jendouba, Le Kef and Teboursouk. The crops that were planted around late November showed normal growth and still had not begun to head. The weather was fairly cold during January through February which assisted in tillering. Maximum area had been planted in the North.
(Click on image to expand. Picture shows wheat in the field.)
As the team drove west towards Algeria, the land increased in elevation and the topsoil became more shallow and mixed with small rocks. The high plateau grows between 25-30 percent of Tunisias wheat. Here the crops showed signs of stress, but the wheat was still developing and had not yet headed. Many fields showed irregularities in growth and health due to hand fertilization (broadcasting) with nitrogen or phosphorous. In addition, removing weeds from the fields is also often done by hand. Only 10 percent of the grain area in Tunisia is irrigated.
Cracks in the dry soil were noticed and occasional appearances of operating sprinklers or pivot irrigation systems were also in place. Driving towards the interior and just south of Jendouba, sheep and goats grazed stressed crops. Roughly 200 kilometers inland from the Mediterranean Coast, the stress from a lack of moisture was easily noticed. Additionally, in some areas, the crop had become wind burned. The increased evaporation from the winds had depleted all of the surface soil moisture and its effects in many of these fields will likely be irreversible, even with additional rain that could arrive later.
The second part of the crop assessment trip in Tunisia found the team traveling south from Tunis through Fahs, Siliana, Kairouan, Enfidha, and back to Tunis. This region is largely a barley producing area. Agriculture in this location is of secondary importance in grain production to the northern zone. Yields in these areas are lower because the region lies fairly distant from the higher moisture totals which are concentrated along the northern coast. However, depending upon the track of storms, this region can have a large planted area and be very productive in years that the rains slide south.
Again, driving onto the high plateau, the crops were doing well, but additional moisture would ensure the success of the harvest. The region of Siliana is the southwest limit for grain production; Further south, the lack of rainfall denies even barley proper growth. The region towards Kairouan was in need of rain, and the hot, dry conditions had induced some of the crops to head earlier than normal. On the drive north to Tunis, along the eastern coast, oats were observed to be growing in a number of fields.
Tunisia, with the additional rains being received in early April should salvage an "average" crop. Morocco will not fare so fortunate, as much of the crop is already dead and will not be harvested. Western Algeria is suffering with Morocco, but the eastern region is more similar to Tunisia with little, but occasional moisture permitting crops to advance. As these countries struggle to produce grain for the 2000/01 season, an obvious import situation has developed.
Bryan Purcell, Northwest Africa Analyst
Telephone: (202) 690-0138
Timothy Rocke, Foreign Grains Chair
Telephone: (202) 720-1572
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