China’s COVID-19 restrictions keep crop analysts away from fields

BEIJING (Reuters) – Grain traders and brokers in the world’s second-largest maize producer are scrambling to forecast this year’s closely watched Chinese maize harvest as COVID-19 restrictions prevent travel to major growing areas. for your evaluation.

China’s corn crop is one of the most closely watched in the world, after bad weather and tight supplies sent prices soaring last year.

Corn imports in 2021 tripled from the previous year and buyers also sourced wheat and other grains from abroad to replace expensive domestic corn, pushing up world prices.

But this year, a dozen traders, brokers and consultants contacted by Reuters said they had failed to make their usual crop inspection visits to China’s northeast grain belt to assess planting progress.

Usually organized from the start of the growing season in China, the week-long farm visits provide information for experts to assess the health of a crop and predict the size and quality of the harvest.

But with much of China under some form of restriction to try to contain the spread of COVID-19, travel is on hold, even for the dozens of analysts based in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai that are in lockdown.

«There are a lot of things to consider. Daily COVID tests, will you be able to go off the road, what hotels can you stay in, what route can you take. It’s too risky,» said an analyst at a consultancy that has canceled trips from this year for sowing corn and harvesting wheat.

The analyst declined to be identified given the sensitivity of speaking about China’s «zero contagion» policy.

Although travel has been frequently interrupted since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, restrictions and lockdowns are now much broader and stricter than at any time since the first months of the outbreak.

A weeks-long lockdown in major grain-producing provinces in the northeast delayed spring fertilizer supplies and meant some farmers were unable to plant maize in time.

(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; Spanish editing by Benjamín Mejías Valencia)