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Warmer Winters ‘May Take a Toll on Wheat Yield’

by Umair Rasheed

Like December, Met Office forecasts January temperatures to be warmer than average as well.

This year, winter weather in Pakistan has been about two to three degrees warmer than average, on the celsius scale, the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) reports.

PMD director general Ghulam Rasool tells TR Pakistan that temperatures in January are expected to remain higher than average as well.

This increase in average winter temperatures may adversely affect the yield of wheat, the staple cereal crop of the country.

Cultivation of wheat crop begins in the Potohar region in end of October, according to the Pakistan Agriculture Information System (PAIS). Irrigated tracts in Punjab and Sindh are cultivated with a little delay in November. In lower Sindh, the crop is ready for harvest by the end of March and in rest of the country in April.

An agronomist contacted by the TR Pakistan says that wheat crop may mature earlier than usual this season if January temperatures remain at around December’s levels. “Generally, the plant enters its reproductive phase by mid to end February. This may occur sooner if temperatures don’t fall in January,” says Dr Muhammad Farooq of University of Agriculture, Faisalabad. He says this will not allow enough time for the wheat grain to grow to its full potential, causing lower yields and smaller grain sizes.

Wheat sown in rain-fed areas faces the added threat of lower than usual rains this season. Dr. Farooq, an associate professor in the Department of Agronomy, says 25 percent of the country’s wheat is grown in rain-fed areas. The yields in these areas will be adversely affected if rains remain scarce in January.

Read more: Diversifying Pakistan’s Water Resources

Though the Pakistan Meteorological Department has forecasted scattered rain this week, the PMD director general tells TR Pakistan that rainfall in January is likely to be lower than average. A press release issued by the Met Office on Monday says scattered rain is expected over Islamabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA, upper Punjab divisions of Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Sargodha and Lahore divisions.

Farooq says weather changes like warmer temperatures and lower rains in winters do not pose any immediate concerns for policy makers because “the country’s wheat yield is generally higher than domestic demand and there is enough reserve stock to deal with such shortages”.

“We require around 21 to 22 million tonnes wheat for the domestic market. Our production is generally four to five million tonne higher than that,” he says.

However, warmer than usual winters should be a cause for concern for government agencies dealing with food security, in general, and wheat procurement, in particular, in the medium-to-long term.

Temperature data maintained by authorities across the globe including United States’ National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) provides authoritative evidence that Earth’s atmosphere has warmed up over the past 150 years. NASA’s data from 1880 to 2015 shows that average annual temperatures have rose sharply in the last 35 years, with all but one of the 10 warmest years occurring since 2000. With the average annual temperature recorded at 0.87 degree celsius, 2015 has been the warmest year for the planet according to NASA’s data.

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