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What will become of the “Breadbasket of Europe” as soon as filming stops in Ukraine? Russia is the largest and Ukraine the fifth largest exporter of wheat. Together they account for 29% of annual global wheat sales. The war has disrupted not only Ukraine’s harvests, but also Russia’s ability to ship its wheat to other countries.

This will lead to food crises in much of the world. Two of the most volatile regions, the Middle East and North Africa, are most dependent on these two sources. But food prices will come under pressure everywhere.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, wheat prices were already 49% above their 2017-2021 average, reports The Economist. They have increased by another 30% since the beginning of the war.

War will limit supply in a number of ways. Obviously, it will reduce crops in Ukraine. But even if Russia’s wheat fields continue to produce, the conflict will make it difficult to export the grain, as mentioned above.

Importantly, harvests elsewhere will be affected, as Ukraine and Russia are also major suppliers of agricultural fertilizers. Ukraine’s supplies are being shattered by the war, while Russia’s are frozen by economic sanctions.

But what about US farmers? The United States is the second largest wheat exporter in the world. Couldn’t American agriculture fill a supply gap, especially when higher prices for their crops spur our farmers to plant more? Apparently it’s not that simple.

American farmers would certainly welcome higher wheat prices. The problem lies in the higher production costs. Farmers, who are already paying record prices for fertilizer, are also having to contend with the rising cost of the diesel fuel that powers their tractors and other machinery.

High fertilizer prices are already having an impact on farmers’ choices. For example, Americans typically grow more corn than soybeans. This year, however, the balance has shifted in favor of soybeans. The reason: soybeans usually require a quarter of the fertilizer of corn. Wheat falls somewhere in the middle when it comes to fertilizer consumption.

Aggravating circumstances, wind and drought have left America’s winter wheat crop in the worst shape on record, according to the Department of Agriculture. This follows a poor harvest in 2021 that pushed US wheat stocks to their lowest level in 14 years. In any case, by the time the war began, almost all of the winter wheat had been grown. And a severe drought is forecast for the Western Plains, America’s breadbasket.

Even if the violence against Ukraine ends with a ceasefire, or rather a resolution, that country will have a hard time restoring its agrarian power. First of all, the agricultural infrastructure is destroyed. Tractors and other agricultural machinery were used to stop Russian tanks. And the Russians are bombing farm buildings full of tools and other farm implements.

There is also the question of how much ordnance is now buried in Ukrainian fields. That would put farm workers at risk of detonating explosives, much like what happened in Europe after World War II. Ukrainians are already afraid that Russians will plant booby-trapped bodies on the streets with bombs.



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