CAIRO, EGYPT — Egypt’s planting of 2016 winter crops for harvest from mid?April 2016 was concluded in early December 2015, according to a Feb. 18 GIEWS Country Brief from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). In some areas, heavy rains and local flooding challenged field work. Preliminary figures, released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation in early January, show a slight decline in the area planted to wheat (1.326 million hectares in 2015-16 compared to 1.418 million hectares in the previous year) although the figure is likely to be revised. The Ministry also reported normal availability of fertilizers, which in the past were seen as a constraint to production.

The 2015 cereal harvest, at 21.7 million tonnes, was slightly up from the level of the previous year and more than 300,000 tonnes above the past five-year average. At 9 million tonnes, wheat production was estimated to remain on the same level as the previous year but some 7% above the five?year average. On the other hand, maize production was estimated to be below the average but slightly above 2014.

Since the 2013-14 season, Egypt maintained high procurement prices, at EGP 420/ardeb ($400/tonne of wheat) to encourage additional planting and discourage switching to other crops. In November 2015, the government announced that it would replace fixed prices with direct subsidies, providing each farmer with EGP 1,300/fedan ($162/fedan or $68/hectare) up to a maximum of 25 fedans per farmer. The Egyptian government would then purchase local wheat at the average global wheat prices prevailing during the harvest time. Following objections from farmers and agricultural cooperatives who argued that the current levels of support using fixed procurement prices were already insufficient and that the change would further decrease income and feasibility of farming, Egypt revered back to previous supported prices of EGP 420/ardeb.

Efforts are underway to increase water and land productivity as well as to utilize drought?tolerant, higher?yielding wheat varieties. Among other initiatives, the African Development Bank approved a $50 million loan for the Egyptian National Drainage Program to develop or improve irrigation systems and to avoid water logging and soil salinity. According to Egypt, the program is expected to boost crop productivity by 15% to 21% for selected strategic crops, including wheat, and increase farm income by 40% for a typical 1 hectare farm.

Egypt remains the world’s largest wheat importer. Wheat imports for the 2015-16 marketing year (July/June) are estimated at 11 million tonnes, about the same as the previous year and the average for the last five years.

The overall cereal import requirements in the 2015-16 marketing year (July/June) are forecast at around 19.3 million tonnes, about the same as the previous year and 9% higher than the five year average.

The country’s position with regard to tolerated ergot level is not clear at the moment. In January 2016, the General Authority for Supply Commodities has allowed for a 0.05% ergot level (in line with the Codex Alimentarius), while the Central Authority of Plant Quarantine demands shipments to be completely free of ergot.