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Beijing Area Flooding Brings Loss of Life and Risk to China’s Corn Crop

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Historic flooding in Beijing is causing loss of life, mass evacuations, and billions of yuan in property damage. The heavy summer monsoon rains also are hitting Hebei province, which surrounds the Chinese capital and is one of the country’s principal corn growing regions. 

Precipitation over the broader Beijing area in July was more than double the 20-year average of 150 mm for the month, according to the Gro Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture. The city and environs recorded 175 mm of rain between Saturday and Wednesday, as seen in this Gro display. Gro data averages rainfall over the entire region of Beijing, while media outlets often report rainfall amounts at a single weather station.

For Hebei province, which accounts for about 10% of China’s corn production, Gro Navigator shows that year-to-date precipitation is 11% above the 20-year average, boosted especially by vigorous rainfall in July.

Similarly heavy rainfall hit Hebei province in July in both 2016 and 2019, according to the Gro Navigator. Although Hebei’s corn production in those earlier years wasn’t significantly impacted by the heavy rains, there is still a risk that particular factors this year could damage the crop. 

Gro’s vegetative health index, a satellite-derived measure of plant greenness, so far isn’t signaling stress to the crop, as shown in this Gro Navigator display, but that could change depending on how the plants respond in the coming days to the torrential rain and floods. 

China is the world’s No. 2 consumer of corn, using nearly 300 million tonnes of corn annually, and any shortfall in domestic production would need to be made up with domestic corn reserves and imports, which in turn would dent global supply and demand balance sheets. 

Gro’s machine-learning China Corn Yield Forecast Model, which updates daily during the growing season, shows that Hebei province yield forecasts moved down slightly in the wake of the floods, although overall national yields showed little reaction. 

China’s corn production has changed little in almost a decade. During that time, the country has become the world’s largest importer of grain — annual corn imports have more than doubled over the past 10 years, largely for livestock feed. 

Most of China’s increased purchases in recent years have come from the US and Ukraine. An agreement with Brazil last year has accelerated China’s corn imports from the South American country. (To see monthly corn trade flows into China by origin click here.) 

Meanwhile, other parts of China continue to suffer from hot and dry weather. In northwestern Xinjiang province, where the bulk of China’s cotton is grown, “extreme” drought conditions as measured by the Gro Drought Index are at their second-highest level in 20 years, as shown in this Gro Navigator display

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