24 March 2022
Russia's war in Ukraine has economists concerned about the worldwide supply of wheat.
Ukraine and Russia account for over 30 percent of world wheat and barley exports. The war will limit the supply of those grains.
That is likely to cause problems for people in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Poor people in those regions depend on wheat purchased by their governments for much of their daily food. It comes in the form of bread and noodles.
Observers are wondering where that wheat will come from if it cannot come from Russia and Ukraine.
Farmers in other parts of the world are considering planting more wheat in their fields.
Ed Kessel owns a farm in the northern U.S. state of North Dakota. He is a leader of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association. He said he may plant some more wheat this year to possibly earn additional money.
The price of wheat is expected to go up, along with other grains produced in Russia and Ukraine. Another commodity going up in price because of the war is oil.
Kessel said a little more money from wheat will help offset the rising cost of fuel and the loss of some crops due to recent dry weather.
"We'll put a few more acres into wheat and a few more into sunflowers," he said.
Economists are watching farmers in the U.S. and in other nations including Canada, France, Australia and Argentina. They are wondering if farmers in those places can make up for lost Ukrainian and Russian supplies.
As long as that question remains unanswered, nations like Egypt, Lebanon and Pakistan will worry about the wheat supply.
In a report released this month, the International Grains Council said extra grain from other parts of the world will only "partially" make up for lower production in Russia and Ukraine.
Another organization expressing concern about the wheat supply is the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP). About half the grain purchased each year by the WFP comes from Ukraine.
The head of the WFP said the combination of more costly wheat and lower wheat exports is a "catastrophe not just in Ukraine," but possibly worldwide.
It is not yet clear how financial restrictions placed on Russia will limit the country's ability to sell grain to other countries.
For now, Australia and India have said they will increase their exports. But many other countries are not able to quickly make changes to the amount of wheat they can send to the rest of the world.
In recent years, farms in the U.S. produced about 50 million metric tons of wheat. But last year, the amount was about 10 percent lower because of a lack of rain and moves to plant other crops.
Canada, Australia and Argentina have said they can all start to plant more wheat. But it is unclear how fast they can make changes.
Doug Martin is a farmer in Manitoba, Canada. He said most farmers already have a plan in place for the season and "will probably stick to that." One reason for that, Martin said, is that other crops such as oats and barley are also bringing in better prices.
At the same time, farmers are being careful with how much they plant. That is because other supplies important for farming, such as fertilizer, are more costly.
Sylvain Charlebois is a food policy professor at Dalhousie University in Canada. He said if fertilizer were less costly it might be possible to grow more wheat. But that is not the case.
Phillippe Duterte is a wheat farmer. His farm is about 200 kilometers southwest of Paris. He said he might be able to add a little more wheat but he is not sure. He noted that France "cannot guarantee the food security of France and Europe tomorrow."
In Australia, wheat production has been strong. However, all the wheat for sale outside of the country has already been promised to other buyers.
In Argentina, farmers have trouble selling their wheat outside of the country because the government put in place price controls on exports.
Wheat is a large part of the diet in places suffering from bad growing conditions such as Egypt. Egypt is the largest wheat importer in the world. In answer to price increases, the government recently announced a price restriction and said that those who are trying to sell bread for a high price will be fined.
There are about 270 million metric tons of wheat in storage that can help make up for less wheat coming from Ukraine and Russia. However, half of that is already held in China to support its 1.4 billion people.
The problem may remain until the fighting in Ukraine stops.
Tom Bernhardt is a farmer in North Dakota. Even with the higher wheat prices, he said he probably will not plant more of the crop.
He said he has never planted more of a crop just to "chase prices."
I'm Ashley Thompson. And I'm Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based a report by The Associated Press.
What do you think will happen in poor nations that cannot get enough wheat? Let us know. Write to us in the Comments Section and visit 51VOA.COM.
Words in This Story
region –n. part of a country or the world
noodle –n. a thin strip of dough made from flour, water and eggs cooked in boiling liquid
commodity – n. something bought and sold
offset – v. to cancel or reduce the effect of something
sunflower –n. a tall plant that has very large yellow flowers that produces seeds that can be eaten
partially –adv. somewhat but not completely
catastrophe –n. a terrible disaster
barley –n. a kind of grain used for food that also is used for beer and whiskey
fertilizer –n. a substance applied to plants that helps them grow
diet –n. the food that people usually eat