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Iran Drought Threatens Wheat Crop as Anti-Government Unrest Flares

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Even as anti-government demonstrations blaze across Iran, continuing drought raises the risk of a poor wheat harvest, and higher prices, for a second year in a row. 

Iran is the largest wheat producer and consumer in the Middle East. In 2021/22 a weak harvest due to drought led to tightened domestic wheat supplies and prompted a surge in wheat imports. Soaring bread prices earlier this year triggered protests in several Iranian cities.

Iran’s wheat production fell 20% in 2021/22 from a year earlier and imports more than tripled to a record amount, according to USDA estimates. 

Currently, the Gro Drought Index shows Iran’s wheat growing regions in aggregate are at “severe” levels of drought. The Index is at its second-highest level in two decades, surpassed only by last year’s drought readings. Wheat is Iran’s most important crop, accounting for more than half of its cultivated acreage and 75% of its grain output.

View a display of the Gro Drought Index and other growing conditions for Iran’s wheat in Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture, which allows users to weight growing conditions for specific crops and locations.

Iran’s wheat growing regions are experiencing the second-worst drought in two decades (red line), surpassed only by last year’s drought levels (blue line). This chart from Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture shows the Gro Drought Index, which measures drought globally on a scale of 0, or no drought, to 5, or exceptional drought.

Iran’s wheat crop is planted in September and October and harvested in June and July. Most of the wheat is rain fed, and this season’s cumulative rainfall bodes poorly for the crop. 

Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator shows accumulated precipitation from September to early October was 80% below the 10-year average for Iran’s wheat growing areas. More rainfall is especially needed in western parts of the country where a large portion of the rain-fed wheat crop is grown.

Iran’s struggles with its wheat crop come at a time when global stocks of wheat, excluding China, are at their lowest level in 14 years, as Gro wrote about here. This has tightened wheat supplies available for export and exacerbated the risk of food insecurity in many import reliant countries. 

Other Middle East countries, including Iraq and Syria, also face severely dry and hot weather that could damage wheat crops and increase their import needs. Similar to Iran, Iraq and Syria both saw sizable declines in wheat production last year due to drought.

This Gro Portal display shows current and historical Gro Drought Index readings at the district level across Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The Index, which updates daily, measures drought globally on a scale of 0, or no drought, to 5, or exceptional drought. 

Iran is a major importer of wheat, previously relying heavily on Black Sea wheat to meet its needs. Since the onset of the war in Ukraine, most of Iran’s wheat imports have come from the EU, which saw its own production decline this season due to intense heat waves and drought, as Gro wrote about here

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