Record Drought Is Threatening China's Fall Harvest

China’s historic drought is drying up rivers and lakes, curtailing hydropower production, and, most ominously of all, threatening China’s agriculture.

Song Kaixiong, who grows sorghum, rice, corn, and soybeans in Sichuan’s mountainous Jiange County, said the local government had used artificial rain twice already during the past month. But he is pessimistic about the outcome and predicted that his rice production in the 120 mu of farmland might drop by 30% to 40%.

“It’s not a question of whether they can be sold or not, there’s just no produce … the corn that survives now has no kernels, and the soybeans have no pods,” Song told Sixth Tone.

So severe is the drought that China’s largest freshwater lake has been reduced to just 25% of its normal size, forcing China to dig channels to allow water to flow to parched crops.

The dramatic decline of Poyang Lake in the landlocked southeastern province of Jiangxi had otherwise cut off irrigation channels to nearby farmlands. The crews, using excavators to dig trenches, only work after dark because of the extreme daytime heat, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

While this is normally the flood season in China, an unusual high pressure system is being held in place by the jet stream, pushing temperatures up and keeping rain out.

The “truly mind-boggling temperatures roasting China” are connected to a stuck jet stream — the river of air that moves weather systems around the world — said Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

She said an elongated area of relatively high atmospheric pressure parked over western Russia is responsible for both China’s and Europe’s heat waves this year. In China’s case, the high pressure is preventing cool air masses and precipitation from entering the area.

Without rain, of course, food production suffers.

Hundreds of thousands of hectares (acres) of crops across central and northern China wilted due to lack of water and high temperatures, according to the government. Some areas reported the summer growing season a failure.

Famine may not be on the menu for the fall, but food price inflation and food insecurity almost certainly will be.