May 5, 2008


Iraq's wheat harvest down 36 percent due to drought



Serious drought conditions will severely damage Iraq's domestic grain prospects in 2008.


Wheat production for all 18 provinces in MY 2008/09 is forecast at 1.5 million tonnes, down 36 percent from last year's estimated harvest of 2.3 million tonnes, according to a USDA attache report posted on the Foreign Agricultural Services Web site.


The country's barley crop is expected to register an even steeper drop of 60 percent  to 450,000 tonnes. 


Iraq stepped up its wheat imports earlier to forestall rising prices, with USDA estimates putting its imports for MY 2007/08 at 3.5 million tonnes.


Wheat imports are expected to remain strong in MY 2008/09 in response to the drought and are forecast at 3.5 million tonnes.


In the absence of a concerted campaign to step up feed grain imports, Iraq's vulnerable livestock sector can be expected to endure economic hardship in the coming year, the USDA said.


Wheat Production


Iraq's wheat harvested area in 2008 is forecast at 1 million hectares (HA), down by nearly 50 percent from last year.


In the northern, mainly rain-fed provinces of Nineveh, Kirkuk and Erbil (which accounted for a third of last year's wheat production) wheat area harvested is forecast to decline by an average of 80 percent due to a lack of rainfall in November and December.


Iraq's wheat is grown as a winter crop in the northern and central portions of the country.


Plantings in the primarily dryland northern regions are large in scale and largely governed by the onset of seasonal rains which typically stretch from November into December. In the central portion of the country, wheat is produced on both large and small-scale plots using both traditional flood as well as modern irrigation methods.


Harvest begins as early as May in central Iraq and progresses northward when the bulk of the country's wheat is harvested in June and July. Despite the drought, average yield is expected to increase as a larger portion of the crop will be harvested from irrigated fields.


Iraq's domestic production of grains is hampered by the lack of improved seed varieties, fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides. In light of this year's poor crop and drought damage, many farmers will be unable to use seeds held back from the upcoming harvest for next year's crop. This season the MOA was able to provide only 10 percent of the seedstock, but farmers will need more to plant next year's crop.