Beneath a cloudless blue sky, the withered wheat grass barely 2 inches high slumped over gray, parched ground in Wei Liuding's field.
A mere spark would set the field alight at this time of the year when the field should be green.
"I haven't seen such a severe drought in my life," said the 50-year-old farmer, dust curling around his feet.
At Wei's farm in Zhongmu County, Henan Province, the water in the well "has become lower and lower since November," he said. "Now I can only get water from seventy or eighty meters down."
If the wheat grass doesn't get enough water, Wei won't have a harvest this summer. He will not be alone.
Water comes to the fore
Including Wei's land, 155 million mu (10.33 million hectares) of crops had been affected by drought nationwide as of Thursday, of which northern wheat crops accounted for 95 percent, the Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said.
About 43 percent of China's wheat is at risk.
The headquarters raised the drought emergency class Thursday from Level II to Level I, the highest, in response to the worst drought to hit northern China in half a century.
In the Yellow River region, the drought alert was raised to red Friday, also the most severe level.
The China Meteorological Administration said Thursday that the northern drought would persist through March and might even worsen.
Duan Aiming, the head of the Irrigation Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences, said the drought had "sounded an alarm" about water resources in northern China.
"As the need for water for domestic and industrial use is rising, water for irrigation is under more stress," said Duan.
Data from the Development Research Center of the State Council showed northern China produces 65 percent of the nation's crops but has only 35 percent of the water. Further, water resources in the region have contracted in recent years.
According to the National Population and Family Planning Commission, China's population will reach 1.5 billion by 2030. In other words, 100 million more tonnes of crops will need to be produced to feed another 200 million mouths. Northern China, with relatively abundant arable land, will remain under pressure.
"This means we can no longer rely on the weather," said Ke Bingsheng, president of China Agricultural University. "To deal with climate abnormalities, a growing water shortage, and the threat to food security, we must speed the use of farming and irrigation methods that save water."