Wheat, rice prices surge as consumers stock up amid coronavirus pandemic

At the very onset of the coronavirus pandemic, consumers flocked to grocery shelves and began buying out and hoarding weeks’ worth of common household items, such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer, resulting in price gouging from various retailers.

Now, two American household dietary staples are poised to see a spike in prices and demand: wheat and rice.

The Wall Street Journal cites contracting supply chains during this period of intense demand for order shipments  and unprecedented quarantine orders as a “perfect storm” for high prices and scarcity.

The International Grains Supply supports the article, writing that “The past month has seen escalating concerns about the global spread of the coronavirus and increasing uncertainty about the longer-term implications for production and consumption.”

The report notes that the price of wheat futures trading in Chicago has jumped by 15 percent since mid-March, hitting new highs of $5.80 a bushel on Wednesday March 25. According to USDA forecasts, the price per bushel for the 2019-2020 season was $4.55. 

Simultaneously, the price of Thai rice, what the Journal calls a "benchmark for international trade," reached a high of $490 on Monday and is currently plateauing at an expected $500 a metric ton after lower prices of $443 in early March, per data from the International Grains Council.

The U.S., like other countries, is in the process of stockpiling enough grain for sufficient reserves to feed its people through the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic — an effort made difficult by the cramps in global trade. 

Coronavirus-related lockdowns have made grain and other food trade logistics difficult. The Journal even writes that Russia — the world’s largest grain exporter — is expected to restrict its grain exports from April through June to seven million tons. 

The timing of this is unfortunate; the Journal notes that U.S. farmers “are expected to plant fewer acres of wheat than they have done in over a century,” due to other competitive trading partners such as Russia, Argentina and France leading wheat production and exportation. 

The USDA forecasts that farmers, who have focused on producing the more lucrative soybean and corn options, will plant 45 million acres of wheat this year, the lowest number since 1909, according to the Journal.

According to the North American Miller’s Association, flour millers will be working with the White House Coronavirus Task Force to “ensure a consistent and reliable flow of safe nutritious and affordable food, such as flour, to food manufacturers and retail locations throughout the country.”



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