Wheat shortage results in record prices

Wheat prices soar
Wheat prices soarCourtesy USDA
Last month the cost of wheat surged to a record $19.80 a bushel (Feb. 16) on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. Wheat historically trades at $3 to $7 a bushel. If you like eating breads, rolls, croissants, bagels and pizza crusts, better be prepared for higher prices. While we may be inconvenienced, a wheat shortage in many parts of the world will result in death by starvation.

Wheat infection spreading

Wheat plants feed more people than any other single food source on the planet. Wheat is now under attack by a virulent strain of black stem rust fungus (Puccinia graminis) known as Ug99.

Black stem rust itself is nothing new. It has been a major blight on wheat production since the rise of agriculture, and the Romans even prayed to a stem rust god, Robigus. NewScientist

Norman Borlaug sounds alarm

When it hit the North American breadbasket, in 1954, it wiped out 40 per cent of the crop. Norman Borlaug solved that wheat rust problem and earned a Nobel Prize by developing wheat that resisted stem rust. Borlaug, known as the father of the Green Revolution, (now 93 and fighting cancer) is leading the charge against his old enemy.

"This thing has immense potential for social and human destruction." When Ug99 turned up in Kenya in 2002, he sounded the alarm. "Too many years had gone by and no one was taking Ug99 seriously," he says. He blames complacency, and the dismantling of training and wheat testing programmes, after 40 years without outbreaks.

Resistant wheat development started too late

Ug99, that sprang up in Africa in 1999 has now spread into Iran and threatens to spread into other wheat producing regions of Asia, namely Pakistan and India, which accounts for 20 percent of the annual world wheat production. CIMMYT estimates that from two-thirds to three-quarters of the wheat now planted in India and Pakistan are highly susceptible to this new strain of stem rust.

“In addition, 75 to 80 percent of our breeding material is also susceptible to this disease. We are running out of resistant genes to deploy in the face of this highly virulent disease.” Dr. Jim Peterson, wheat breeder at Oregon State University and chair of the National Wheat Improvement Committee (NWIC)

Resistant wheat maybe 5 years away

"The spores of wheat rust are mostly carried by wind over long distances and across continents. Scientists met this week in Syria to decide on emergency measures to track Ug99's progress. They hope to slow its spread by spraying fungicide or even stopping farmers from planting wheat in the spores' path. The only real remedy will be new wheat varieties that resist Ug99, and they may not be ready for five years." NewScientist.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Candice_318's picture
Candice_318 says:

I thought we had enough wheat in MN??? So why is the price so high.... I need bread

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posted on Thu, 03/27/2008 - 9:24am
ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says:

Norman E. Borlaug, the plant scientist who did more than anyone else in the 20th century to teach the world to feed itself and whose work was credited with saving hundreds of millions of lives, died Saturday night. He was 95 and lived in Dallas. New York Times.

posted on Sun, 09/13/2009 - 9:30am

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