EghtesadOnline: Agricultural yields are expected to increase by 3 million tons, thanks to the good rainfall recorded in the current Iranian year (started March 20).
Unlike last year, when downpours and floods caused significant losses to farmers, the precipitation registered in arid and semi-arid provinces is expected to lead to a bumper harvest this year.
Out of nearly 18 million hectares of Iranian farmlands, 12 million hectares are rain-fed. The impact of rainfalls is more significant in the arid areas of central, southern, eastern and southeastern regions struggling with water shortages, drought and extended dry seasons since most of their farms are rain-fed.
“Precipitations this year have decreased by 5% compared with last year but improved by 32% over the long-term average,” Esmaeil Esfandiyarpour, an official with Agriculture Ministry told the Persian-language daily Iran.
14m Tons of Wheat Expected This Year
Eight provinces with warmer climate have begun the harvest of wheat and so far, 1.33 million tons of the crops have been delivered to silos, the official said.
“Wheat harvest will continue through September. Projections show more than 14 million tons of wheat will be produced this year,” he said.
Noting that close to 2 million hectares of wheat farms (one-third) in Iran are irrigated and 4.05 million hectares (two-thirds) are rain-fed, Esfandiyarpour said wheat grown under rainwater harvesting gives the best grain yields compared to their irrigated counterpart.
“Fars Province, for example, received precipitation twice that of last year and farmers are anticipating an abundant wheat crop. The province has received 400 millimeters of rain on average this year over last year’s 251 millimeters,” he said.
“Rainfalls this year reduced the soil’s salt concentration that resulted from 20 years of droughts and strengthened the prospects of a rise in production in arid areas.”
Farmers say the lushness of the rain-fed wheat produced this year is similar to crops grown under irrigation systems.
Rice Production Near Self-Sufficiency
Rainfalls have also improved rice production and encouraged agricultural officials to issue cultivation permits for this water-intensive crop in provinces other than northern ones.
With more rain last year, the southern province of Khuzestan became one of the top rice producers after northern provinces. Rice output exceeded 2 million tons last year.
“All provinces that enjoy bountiful water resources due to the recent high levels of precipitation and those with favorable weather conditions and adequate raw materials [seeds, fertilizer] can engage in rice cultivation this year. These provinces have also been allowed to dedicate more land to this cultivation,” Jamil Alizadeh Shayeq, the head of Iran Rice Association, has been quoted as saying by Young Journalists Club.
A total of 2.9 million tons of rice were produced in Iran in the last Iranian year (March 2019-20), registering a 45% increase compared with the previous year, according to director general of the Agriculture Ministry’s Grains and Essential Goods Bureau.
“This increase in rice output owes to the favorable weather and heavy precipitations during February and March of 2019, due to which land under rice cultivation increased by 38% to reach 834,000 hectares,” Faranak Aziz Karimi was quoted as saying by IRNA.
Drought has been one of the main causes of migration from urban areas to rural areas in recent years.
Some villages in desert and border areas vital for national security had even become deserted. However, the past couple of years’ improved precipitation has led to reverse migration.
Mojtaba Palouj, a member of Agricultural Planning, Economic and Rural Development Research Institute, says, “An estimated increase of 3 million tons is expected in agricultural products such as wheat, barley, colza and oilseeds. However, we are not willing to see water consumption increase excessively. Watershed management, i.e. the conservation of soil, plant and water resources of a catchment while benefiting humanity, will be pursued this year. Plans are to strengthen groundwater reservoirs for years to come.”
Noting that rural economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, the official said, “Farming and husbandry account for over 90% of villagers’ income. Previous years’ droughts made orchards, groundwater wells and qanats [gently sloping underground channel to transport water from an aquifer or water well to surface for irrigation and drinking] go dry and increased the mortality of livestock. Farmers turned to jobs of temporary nature.”
Since the beginning of the current water year (started Sept. 23, 2019), almost 302 millimeters of rain fell in Iran, Ahmadali Keykhah, the chairman of Majlis Agriculture Commission, said.
“The significant point in current year’s precipitation is its proportionate spatial distribution, particularly in arid areas. It has not only boosted agriculture, but has also led to a considerable increase in water behind dams. Last year’s rainfalls were untimely and scattered, which damaged the agriculture sector,” he said.
Iran has been battling drought for decades because of declining rainfall, rising temperatures, old and inefficient farming practices, excessive consumption in metropolises and poor water management.
Since the 1970s, the use of groundwater increased fourfold and the average decline in groundwater tables has been in the region of 50 centimeters per annum.
Despite the higher precipitation, people and authorities are concerned about water shortages as many regions across the country are struggling with chronic water shortages that now resemble a crisis.
Experts predict that Iran's water scarcity will hit crisis level by 2025, when available renewable water will be less than 1,000 cubic meters per capita, down from 2,000 cubic meters in 1950.