Yangtze River areas complete 25% of autumn grain harvest amid 'limited impact' from record drought
Published: Sep 21, 2022 11:48 PM
Farmers harvest rice at the paddy fields in Huatian Town of Youyang Tujia and Miao Autonomous County, southwest China's Chongqing, Sept. 14, 2022. Huatian Town of Youyang Tujia and Miao Autonomous County in Chongqing is famous for its rice production on terraced fields.(Photo: Xinhua)

Farmers harvest rice at the paddy fields in Huatian Town of Youyang Tujia and Miao Autonomous County, southwest China's Chongqing, Sept. 14, 2022. Huatian Town of Youyang Tujia and Miao Autonomous County in Chongqing is famous for its rice production on terraced fields.(Photo: Xinhua)

Drones deployed for artificial rain, water diverted to irrigate farmland … Provinces along the reaches of the Yangtze River have ramped up a slew of drought-relief measures to ensure livelihoods and production. Although the longest and widest drought since nationwide observations began in 1961 may have a limited impact on grain harvest this autumn, it could affect the upcoming autumn sowing, experts warned.

Meteorologists said multiple factors such as a lack of precipitation and sweeping heat waves have contributed to the record-breaking drought, and they warned that the situation may continue in the next 10 days, urging continuous efforts in drought relief to guarantee the normal supply of household water, industrial production and environmental protection.

The National Meteorological Center had issued a yellow alert for drought for 34 consecutive days as of Tuesday, covering many provinces including Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi and Anhui.

The high temperatures in most areas of Jiangxi tended to ease on Tuesday, but rain was hard to find in the entire province. Meteorological data showed about 95.7 percent of the regions in Jiangxi were experiencing sizzling temperatures. Drought-induced cracking of soil in some areas of arable land was seen in videos released by local media. 

All 122 countries and districts in Hunan have seen medium-scale drought. A total of 56 rivers with a drainage area of more than 50 square kilometers, and 34 rivers with a drainage area of more than 100 square kilometers were drying up, according to the Hunan drought-relief department on Wednesday.

Since July, the Yangtze River Basin has recorded 42.7 days of drought, 28.9 days more than in the same period of normal years, which has been the most since 1961. A total of 666 observation stations in the whole river basin have recorded drought of medium and above levels, accounting for 96 percent of the entire basin. The affected area was the largest since 1961. 

The short duration of the meiyu rainy period since summer and the lack of any typhoons having traveled inland in July and August have resulted in the precipitation. Besides that, the strongest heat wave since 1961 contributed to the continuous drought, Sun Shao, a senior research fellow from the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

In response, Governor of Jiangxi Province Ye Jianchun stressed on Tuesday the importance of ensuring water supply security at a meeting for emergency water supply. Ye said that the continuous drought and lack of rain have seriously affected the drinking water supply, irrigation, industrial production and the environment, according to Jiangxi authorities.

Li Shiqin, an official from the Jiangxi provincial drought-relief department, told local media that some 17,700 people in remote mountainous areas of the province need to have drinking water delivered. In regions where people suffer from severe shortage of water, upstream reservoirs have been opened to guarantee water supply.

Officials in Jiangxi have also worked to save the ecology of Poyang Lake, China's largest freshwater lake, which entered the dry season this year 100 days earlier than normal. They have been desilting the lake, connecting sub-lakes to the main channel of the lake, and conducting health monitoring of fish in the water. The lake has become shallower and smaller, with bare sand and meadow beneath the lake visible in some areas. 

In Southwest China's Sichuan Province, drones were deployed for artificial rain to ease the drought caused by days of high temperatures. A large-scale triple-engine UAV developed by Sichuan Tengden Sci-Tech Innovation Co conducted artificial rain enhancement operations recently in Sichuan, the Global Times learned from the company on Wednesday.

According to the planned route, the UAV returned to the ground safely after 2.5 hours of cloud-crossing operations at an altitude of 4,500 meters to 5,000 meters, covering an artificial precipitation operation area of about 600 square kilometers, according to the company.

On agriculture production, Sun noted the lack of precipitation has left large areas of tea plantations along the Yangtze River basin baking in extreme high temperatures. Oranges, mangoes, and bananas in some regions have cracked and fallen off trees.

But Li Guoxiang, a research fellow at the Rural Development Institute of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, believes that the drought in the southern regions of China may have a limited impact on this year's autumn harvest, since most of the crops are maturing as modern mechanized agricultural operations are being carried out to harvest crops in most rural areas.

More than half of the autumn crops have been harvested in Southwest China. In the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, approximately 20 percent of crops have been harvested. In Northeast China and regions along the Yellow River and Huaihe River, harvesting is sporadic so far, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MOA).

However, the drought may affect autumn sowing and the early growth of crops, so more measures including large-scale irrigation should be strengthened to ensure sowing, Li told the Global Times. Climate change is one of the major causes of the extreme weather this year, and for the long term, China has to strengthen water conservation and increase its disaster prevention capability, according to Li.

Sun predicted that precipitation in regions along the Yangtze River in the next 10 days will still be low and drought will continue in those regions.