(Adds dropped word in paragraph 3)
BAGHDAD, March 14 (Reuters) - Iraq expects its wheat crop to almost double to 4 million tonnes this year after more rainfall encouraged farmers to grow the grain, its agriculture ministry said on Thursday.
The country produced around 2.17 million tonnes of wheat in 2018 and had expected to grow 3 million tonnes in 2019. But better rainfall provided more fertile land to grow the crop outside of the areas originally planned.
“The areas that were planted have reached 7.3 million donnums (1.825 million hectares)and so we expect production to be between 4 to 4.5 million tonnes,” Hameed al-Nayef, a spokesman for the ministry, said.
Rains provided relief to farmers in Iraq after the major Middle Eastern grain importer struggled with water shortages over the past year.
In September, Iraq had said it would cut the total irrigated area it plants by half in the 2018-2019 season as water shortages gripped the country.
Drought and dwindling river flows forced Iraq to ban farmers from planting rice and other water-intensive summer crops. (Reporting by Moayed Kenany; Writing by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Jon Boyle and Mark Potter)