Nobody is reporting this very heavily, but the drought and subsequent really enormous fires in Russia are having an impact way beyond Russia’s borders.  Specifically, a lot of arable land, used to raise wheat, suffered through a serious drought, and then burned, taking with it a big chunk of Russia’s, and indeed the world’s, wheat production.  We are being set up for another serious spike in wheat prices, and therefore food prices, worldwide.

NPR’s reporting on this issue is very optimistic. But the problem here is that the optimism is very, very selective.  When the chief executive of the International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council, says “U.S. producers will be able to step up to the plate and meet global demand that’s not presently being met by Russian wheat producers,” she is correct . . . assuming that nothing else will go wrong this year that might compromise wheat production elsewhere.  In 2008, the wheat price spike was driven by the convergence of a rise in biofuels production, a drought in Australia, and some fairly shadowy financial instruments that may have generated a commodity bubble around wheat.  In other words, a lot of stuff went wrong at once.  Given the uncertainty we see in the global economy, and the rising climate variability in wheat production centers like Southern Africa, arguing that nothing else will go wrong strikes me as a really weak bet.

Yes, US farmers will profit mightily from an increased demand for their wheat – but if demand outstrips supply, which seems increasingly likely as we move into the fall, everyone from the global poor to the average US consumer is going to feel the impact of rising food prices again.  Right now, nobody is doing anything to address this likelihood, and a reactive approach to food price spikes never solves the problem in time to matter for those most affected . . . anyone want to get proactive about this, please?