Wheat prices are at their highest since the global food crisis in 2008, and look as though they will exceed that level this week. Food costs have already risen to an all-time peak, according to the United Nations, and are set to go even higher, deepening the woes of importers and pushing more people into hunger.
The war is stalling wheat shipments from one of the world’s most vital growing areas. Ukraine and Russia together account for more than a quarter of global trade of the staple, used in everything from bread to cookies and noodles. The conflict has closed major ports in Ukraine, and severed logistics and transport links. Trade with Russia has also been stifled by the complexity of navigating sanctions and soaring insurance and freight costs.
From fields to processing plants to ports, Russia’s invasion has brought Ukrainian agriculture to a halt. The sector is so core to Ukraine’s identity that its flag depicts blue skies blanketing yellow farm fields. Another big problem for supply is that Ukrainian farmers are finding fieldwork hard or have joined the military just weeks before spring planting begins.
Ukraine and Russia are also major suppliers of corn, barley and sunflower oil. Corn is trading near the highest intraday level since 2012, while soybean oil and palm oil have hit records. China, the world’s biggest importer of corn and soybeans and one of the top buyers of wheat, is moving to secure essential supplies in global markets, helping push prices even higher.
Other governments are also taking steps to safeguard domestic food supplies. Hungary is banning grain exports. Argentina, Turkey and Indonesia have also made moves to increase their control over local products. And Moldova, albeit a small shipper, has temporarily halted exports of wheat, corn and sugar.
Still, there’s likely to be a supply response from farmers in other global growing regions this year. The U.S., Canada and Western Europe are likely to plant more in a reaction to the jump in prices, though the increasing volatility of the world’s weather makes bumper crops in these regions far from certain.