Wheat prices hit record high
The cost of March spring wheat hit $24 a bushel Monday, double its cost two months ago.
(Page 2 of 2)
In fact, US stocks of wheat are now at their lowest level in 60 years. By the time the June harvest of spring wheat begins, there will be 27 days of wheat left in storage, estimates the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). (The normal supply is three months.)Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"We think it's a dire situation," says Lee Sanders, senior vice president for government relations for the American Bakers Association, a lobbying group, which has asked its members to brief members of Congress on March 12. The group has also set up meetings with Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer and the White House. Their goal is to free up land that has been put aside for conservation purposes.
While Washington debates, the impact of rising wheat prices is already being felt on many levels. Wegmans, a grocery chain based in Rochester, N.Y., says it has raised prices on packaged breads from 10 to 50 cents. Prices have also gone up on cakes mixes, crackers, cookies, and cereal. "We have absorbed some price increases, but at a point, you have to charge more," says Jo Natale, a spokeswoman for the grocer.
The flour that consumers use to do their own baking is also going up in price. Last October, King Arthur Flour, a producer of premium flour based in Norwich, Vt., raised prices by 12 percent. It just announced another price increase – of 46 percent – for grocery stores and retailers effective April 1. It has tried to explain the price hikes to its customers on its website.
"My biggest worry is the consumer," says Michael Bittel, the company's general manager. "It will take three years of top-notch crops that exceed demand and refill stocks."
Some bakeries say they're having trouble getting some products. In Brookline, Mass., the Clear Flour Bakery has worked hard to introduce whole-grain German rye bread to its customers. But now, it can't get hold of the rye.
"It's frustrating after building up the market that for three weeks in a row, we have not had it," says Abe Faber, co-owner of the bakery and a board member of the Bread Bakers Guild of America.
Wheat growers say the best cure for high prices is .... high prices, since they will prompt farmers to plant more wheat. Last week, the USDA estimated that would happen in the next growing season.
Unfortunately, many US farmers won't benefit from the current prices since they won't have a crop until June or July. "The vast majority have not been able to benefit," says John Thaemert, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers and also a farmer in Sylvan Grove, Kan.
He ticks off how the farmer has been hit by higher energy costs and fertilizer expenses. "We've had seven years of drought, people questioning my sanity while we're out here busting our buns," he says. "Now, there is the possibility of healing some of the hurt, paying some bills, and hopefully bringing another generation into farming."
In his part of Kansas, there has been good moisture this winter. He hopes to do all he can to produce wheat for the markets. "We've had some rain and a foot of snow. It was just beautiful," he says.