WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Saudi Arabia’s wheat production is expected to skyrocket the next two market years due to the government’s decision to reduce irrigation.

Production is forecast at 500,000 tonnes in 2018-19 and 700,000 tonnes in 2019-20, up from 10,000 tonnes in 2017-18, according to a March 14 report from the U.S. Department of Agricultures’ Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).

The Saudi Ministry of Environment, Agriculture and Water (MEWA) estimates that 87,280 hectares (HA) of wheat will be cultivated this market year.

The nation partially rescinded a virtual ban on domestic production of wheat that had been in place for three years, the report said.

“Wheat production is being permitted to provide medium and smaller size forage producers with an alternative field crop,” the FAS said.

Growers have been forced to stop forage production because the government decided to reduce production by 42.5% over concern of depletion of ground water.

While domestic wheat and forage production depends on 100% irrigation, wheat uses much less water than alfalfa, the FAS said.

Total Saudi wheat consumption in 2017-18 was about 3.5 million tonnes based on data provided by the Saudi Arabia Grains Organization (SAGO). SAGO shows wheat flour consumption was 2.8 million tonnes in 2017-18.

Wheat flour consumption has been static for the past several months and is not expected to significantly increase in the next two marketing years.

SAGO is the exclusive importer of subsidized food grade wheat in Saudi Arabia. The organization imports mainly hard wheat directly through public tenders open to registered international exporters, the FAS said.

SAGO issued five international wheat import tenders in 2018-19 to import a total of 2.86 million tonnes by the end of June, a 17% decrease compared to 3.43 million tonnes imported in 2017-18.

This is due to the increase in domestic wheat production. SAGO will start purchasing wheat from farmers this June.

A further decrease of about 9% in imports is forecast for 2019-20.