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China goes ‘all in’ on wheat harvest

Bloomberg Wheat-harvest-bloomberg-387753058 copy.jpg
HITTING THE FIELD: Chinese officials are working to help farmers get spring fieldwork done, from Covid testing on the farm to reducing quarantines.
Concern about inflation has officials pushing hard to avoid hold-ups on spring fieldwork.

At a time when food shortages and soaring prices are becoming a major concern for governments around the world, China is going all out to make sure that its summer wheat harvest proceeds without any hitches.

Premier Li Keqiang stressed that the reaping of crops should proceed without hindrance as he gave special instructions to the national summer harvest work meeting late last week, according to a report in the official Xinhua News Agency. Local authorities shouldn’t set up obstacles for any reason and whoever fails to perform their duties will be held accountable, he said.

The instructions come after farmers in some parts of China had to contend with strict virus curbs that prevented them from plowing their fields and sowing their seeds. Food security is always an important issue for Beijing, but it’s especially critical this year amid surging global prices for many agricultural commodities due to extreme weather and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There’s also been a spate of nations curbing food exports to safeguard local supplies.

Chinese farmers start reaping crops such as wheat and planting corn and soybeans from late May, with the harvest starting in the warmer southern parts of the country and gradually moving north. It’s key to fulfilling Beijing’s annual food production targets and shortfalls can lead to sharp price spikes. 

“As protectionism grows globally on food exports, domestic production in China has become more important than ever in maintaining stable supply and curbing inflation,” said Gary Ng, a senior economist at Natixis SA. Beijing will need to try and strike a balance between food security and lockdowns, he said.

Premier Li has been making efforts to ensure Beijing doesn’t sacrifice too much economic growth as it sticks with its strict Covid Zero policy. In agriculture, there have also been a range of other efforts to ensure the summer harvest proceeds smoothly:

  • State Council Vice Premier Hu Chunhua visited Henan province, the biggest wheat producer in China, to try and ensure a successful harvest, Xinhua reported on Sunday
  • In some parts of Henan, medical staff have been sent to the fields to offer Covid-19 tests to farm workers, broadcaster CCTV reported over the weekend
  • Authorities around China have taken steps to ensure the transport of agriculture machines won’t be impeded by virus restrictions, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said on its website
  • Local governments in provinces from Henan to Jiangsu are organizing volunteers to help reap crops if there are shortages or workers due to virus-related curbs on movement

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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