May 23, 2017 / 4:20 AM / 2 years ago

Rain brings relief to China's parched grain fields

BEIJING (Reuters) - Heavy rains this week have brought relief to parched fields in China’s major grain producing regions, breaking a months-long dry spell that had slowed corn planting and hit winter wheat crops.

FILE PHOTO: A harvester unloads corn to a cargo truck at a farm in Gaocheng, Hebei province, China, in this September 30, 2015 file picture. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

The rain will dampen farmer worries about output in the world’s top consumer of grains, potentially dragging on global prices for corn and wheat.

“Dry weather had affected corn acreage in some areas. Planting had slowed,” said Meng Jinhui, an analyst with Shengda Futures.

“But the timely rain has significantly eased the situation. There will be more rain in coming days (in some areas), enough for the new crops.”

Corn is usually planted in China from April to late May, with the process stymied this year in the northeastern grain belt by the prolonged dry spell that began in March.

In the region’s Liaoning province, the planted area for all crops was down by nearly 1,000 hectares from the same period last year, state media Xinhua news reported on Monday. Around 3 million hectares were planted with grain in Liaoning in 2015.

The country’s agriculture ministry on Monday said it had sent a “working group” to areas stricken by dry weather, providing technical support to farmers.

The slowdown in corn planting came as acreage was already expected to drop as part of a government push to whittle massive state reserves by shifting some production to soybeans.

The rain has also helped winter wheat crops in Henan, Hebei and Shandong provinces, which China’s National Meteorological Center said were hit by a dry hot wind last week. The crops are currently in their flowering period, a key growth stage before harvesting in less than a month.

Despite the timely rainfall, China’s winter wheat is still vulnerable.

“The coming month is key for wheat output. A couple days of rain is good. But if the rain lasts 4-5 days, it will be terrible. And definitely we don’t want continuous rains during harvest,” said an analyst with an official think tank. He declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak with media.

Forecasts for the next few days show further rain in some grain producing areas, although the wet weather is seen ending in Liaoning.

Reporting by Hallie Gu and Josephine Mason; Editing by Joseph Radford

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