NAJAF/KARABALA, Iraq May 29 (Reuters) – Amin Salah used to grow wheat near the banks of Iraq’s Euphrates River, but persistent droughts have led him to switch to farming unlikely new grounds deep in the harsh desert of Najaf.

Watered by sprinklers fitted to wells dug more than 100 metres under the sun-bleached earth, his land now produces double what it did compared to when he relied on ancient methods that flood fields with river water, he said.

“It’s a golden year, a golden season,” said Salah, wearing a traditional white robe and reflective sunglasses as he walked his field and noted the benefits: less money and water spent, as well as a bigger and quality harvest.

Iraq’s government says this officially-supported shift has allowed the country to double areas cultivated with wheat this year to some 8.5 million danams (850,000 hectares) compared to roughly 4 million (400,000 hectares) last year.

Agriculture ministry spokesperson Mohammad Al-Khuzai said that has translated into a harvest of around 4 million tons of wheat – the largest in years and 80% of the needs of a country with a 43 million population who eat bread at almost every meal.