March 27, 2014 in Business

Wheat prices spike amid Ukraine upheaval, wintry weather

Roxana Hegeman Associated Press
 

WICHITA, Kan. – Political instability in Ukraine – coupled with potential freeze damage to winter wheat in the United States and a deepening drought in some major wheat producing countries – are conspiring to significantly drive up wheat prices, economists say.

U.S. Wheat Associates, the industry’s trade group, said in a recent report that concern over the political situation in Ukraine – which supplies 6 percent of the world’s wheat export market – was one of the factors for the price spikes. Crimea accounted last year for about 7 percent of Ukraine’s grain exports. The Black Sea region is one of the world’s major wheat producing areas, with Russian wheat alone accounting for almost 11 percent of the world’s export market.

But the group’s market analyst, Casey Chumrau, also said in her report that weather worries were the primary fuel for a 15 percent increase in wheat futures prices for hard red winter wheat during just 13 trading days at the Kansas City Board of Trade. Droughts in some major wheat growing countries and potential freeze damage stemming from subzero temperatures that hit the U.S. plains in January is now showing up.

“We are certainly not downplaying the political unrest,” Chumrau said. “There is potential for market disruption in the future, but at this point it is market speculation.”

While the down-the-road effects of the higher prices on consumers is uncertain, U.S. farmers are poised to cash in on the higher prices. In January, hard red winter wheat for May delivery on the commodity futures market was trading at $6.05 a bushel. It is now fetching almost $8 a bushel.

“The specter of potential conflict and upheaval in that part of the world is probably what is affecting at least the worries of the market, as much as the current actual impact,” said Dan O’Brien, a specialist in grain markets at Kansas State University.

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