The US – Iraq’s Largest Wheat Trade Partner
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Wheat is the primary cereal produced in Iraq, accounting for 70 percent of total cereal production in the country. The bulk of rain-fed cultivation is concentrated in the north – Ninewah, Kirkuk, and Salah Al Din governorates – while most irrigated cultivation occurs in the country’s central southern and eastern regions – Wasit and Qadissyia governorates. Planting begins in October and November, and the harvest generally begins in April, extending into June in some areas. The Wheat is grown on both irrigated and rain-fed lands, split almost half and half.
In Iraq, Wheat is considered a strategic crop, and the Government invests considerable resources into domestic production through subsidized inputs and direct purchase of harvests. The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) also determines the Wheat production areas each growing season through its National Annual Agricultural Plan. In previous seasons, farmers who grew Wheat outside this plan did not gain the same access to subsidized inputs, must sell their Wheat at reduced prices, and were not eligible to market their product to silos run by the Ministry of Trade (MOT). However, this strategy changed due to the recent global crisis in the grain market, and the Government has now allowed all farmers to sell their grain to the MOT silos.
Post projects Wheat production in marketing year (MY) 2022/23 to be 3.25 million metric tons (MMT) on extreme water shortages, deficient rainfall early in the growing season, and policy changes on farmer input subsidies resulting in lower yields. MOA also announced a reduction in agriculture-growing areas due to water scarcity. MY 2021/22 production was revised down from 7.26 MMT to 5.47 MMT, a 24.6 percent drop based on official data. Low production yields due to little rainfall and unfavorable weather also contributed to lower production in MY 2021/22.
Harvested area for MY 2022/23 was estimated at 2.17 million hectares (ha). The MOA’s planned Wheat cropping area for MY 2022/23 for the Central and Southern Iraq regions (C&S) is 2.32 million ha. The planned cropping area for the Kurdistan region (KRI) has not yet been released, but it is estimated to be the same as the previous MY, at 780,380 ha. The planned planted area will likely be around 3.1 million ha, approximately 11 percent less than MY 2021/22. Producers harvested less than 70 percent of last year’s planned planting in the C&S, and Post estimates the same for the forecast year due to persistent weather conditions. Less than half of the planned planted area in the C&S region will be in rain-fed zones.
Though Iraq increased its Wheat planted area in MY 2021/22 by 10.4 percent compared to the previous season, the harvested area, due to low water availability, was much lower, reaching as low as 25 percent in the hardest-hit governorate. Unlike most seasons where the rain-fed zones commonly contribute the highest percentage of the total Wheat production, for MY 2021/22, it was the opposite. Due to low rainfall, the irrigated areas contributed to nearly all of Iraq’s Wheat production in the C&S, 4.1 MMT or 97.7 percent, even though it comprised less than two-thirds of the planted area. The Governorate of Wasit ranked first in production, producing 19.1 percent.
Wheat Import in Iraq
According to AgFlow data, Iraq imported 0.2 million tons of Wheat from the United States in Q1 2023, followed by Australia (0.1 million tons), Canada (0.1 million tons), and Russia (30,000 tons). Post expects Iraqi Wheat imports in MY 2022/23 to reach 3.4 MMT. This is a 1.2 MMT increase over MY 2021/22. The expert organization revised its previous import forecast for MY 2021/22 by 29.4 percent, to 2.2 MMT, on current import trends.
Other sources: USDA
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