Source: USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service

A serious drought has developed in eastern China over the past few months. Total precipitation has been scarce since October 2010, with some locations on the North China Plain receiving less than 10 percent of normal precipitation through December 2011. A lack of snow cover has deprived the dormant winter wheat crop of valuable moisture and protection from frigid temperatures and winds. Seasonably dry and cold weather is expected to continue for the next two weeks. The impact of the drought has been mitigated by the widespread availability of water for irrigation, but crop stress could become serious if the drought continues after the winter wheat emerges from dormancy in February/March 2011. Historically, the most important factors determining winter wheat yield in China has been the amount and distribution of rainfall during the reproduction/grain fill stage (April/May).

China Drought Monitor - Current Drought Condtions - January 10, 2011

Drought May Impact China's 2011 Winter Wheat Crop
Source: Division of Climate Impoact Assessment/NCC/CMA


China's 2011/12 winter wheat crop was planted in September/October 2010 and will be harvested in May/June 2011. Winter wheat is concentrated on the North China Plain, where five provinces (Henan, Shandong, Hebei, Anhui, and Jiangsu) account for about 75 percent of total production. The Ministry of Agriculture reported that winter wheat area for 2011 reached an estimated 22.7 million hectares, up about 70,000 hectares from the previous year.


Heavy rainfall in August and September provided favorable moisture for winter wheat planting and emergence. Although rainfall in October and November was far below normal, supplemental irrigation was readily available from reservoirs and ground water sources. Temperatures were generally mild in November and December, which aided winter wheat growth but decreased soil moisture supplies. According to satellite imagery and NDVI models, the crop appeared to be well established before entering dormancy in mid-December.


Normalized Vegetation Index Model - December 20, 2010
Drought May Impact China's 2011 Winter Wheat Crop
Source:Crop Explorer, USDA/FAS/OGA


Precipitation continued to be very light in December, and government officials became increasingly concerned about the dry conditions. On December 6, the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters reported that serious drought was affecting 3.87 million hectares of winter wheat in eastern China, or about 19 percent of planted area. The drought was centered in Shandong and Henan provinces, and included parts of Shanxi, Hebei, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces. Shandong officials have called the current drought the worst in 50 years, affecting more than 1.84 million hectares of cropland, while in Henan, total rainfall in November and December was said to be the lowest in at least 50 years. Most of the North China Plain has not received any significant precipitation in December or January, and weather forecasts call for continued cold and dry weather for the next two weeks.

Drought May Impact China's 2011 Winter Wheat Crop
Source: USDA/OCE - Date range is 1983/84 through 2010/11


While southern China has been hit by several snowstorms this winter, there has been a nearly complete absence of snow on the North China Plain and the winter wheat crop is unprotected. Temperatures have been below normal in early January but not cold enough to damage the dormant wheat crop. However, if temperatures drop to dangerous levels ( -17 C. to -18 C), the lack of snow cover and dried-out soils will leave the wheat crop vulnerable to freeze damage.

Drought May Impact China's 2011 Winter Wheat Crop
Source: Crop Explorer, USDA/FAS/OGA (snow cover indicated in white)