Russian Wheat Crisis Boosts U.S. Growers Russia's drought and massive wildfires have sent wheat prices through the roof. Fortunately, most U.S. wheat farmers have had a stellar harvest and are likely to help meet global demand. That's especially the case in Colorado, which exports 80 percent of the wheat it produces.

Russian Wheat Crisis Boosts U.S. Growers

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

There's plenty of bleak news when it comes to the global economy, but hard times in one place can sometimes mean good fortune in another. In Russia, drought and wildfires have badly damaged that country's wheat crop. As a result, American farmers are getting record prices for their wheat this harvest season.

In Colorado, which exports 80 percent of its wheat, farmers are doing especially well. Kirk Siegler of member station KUNC has this report.

KIRK SIEGLER: Driving east out of Denver, the mountains give way to the high plains and wheat fields unfold in every direction.�The wind is so ferocious here you have to death grip the steering wheel. But on Mark's Linnebur's farm, it's the flies that are the real nuisance.

Mr. MARK LINNEBUR: We'll step out of the flies for you. The flies don't have a lot of people to spread out, so they kind of concentrate on us.

SIEGLER: So the flies and other critters don't take over and eat his wheat stored in�60-foot tall bins, Linnebur fires up huge fans, to keep things cool.

(Soundbite of fans starting)

He's holding onto more wheat in these bins this summer, than he normally does, because Linnbhur's gambling that prices will continue to rise.�That's part of the risky business of farming, he says, knowing when to sell and when to hold off for higher prices later.

Mr. LINNEBUR: Our entire livelihood depends on that gamble. Given the drought in Russia and its new export ban, speculators and investors believe prices will soar higher, before they fall.�Fortunately most American wheat farmers are coming off one of their best harvests in years.�In Colorado, farmers, this summer, have produced record supplies. Darrell Hanavan is executive director of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers.

Mr. DARRELL HANAVAN (Executive director, Colorado Association of Wheat Growers): To have a record yield, and have above average prices at the same time, is historic.�

SIEGLER: And on its face, just from economics 101, kind of strange?�

Mr. HANAVAN: It is, you know, and my educational background is economics, and, you know, there's an inverse relationship.

SIEGLER: One that Hanavan expects the market will soon correct. He's also quick to say that the news isn't all good. As wheat prices rise, so have prices for fertilizer. And farmers are seeing other production costs spike as well.�

And then there are the concerns about global food shortages and hunger epidemics if there's less wheat on the market, long term.

Ms. CHARLOTTE HEBEBRAND (President, International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council): We're never going to be able to control the weather.�So some of this is par for the course.

SIEGLER: Economist and trade advocate Charlotte Hebebrand, says at least in the short term, there's enough wheat to go around.

Ms. HEBEBRAND: Thank God we've got trade to make up for shortfalls. You know, the U.S. producers will be able to step up to the plate and meet global demand that's presently not being met by Russian wheat producers.

SIEGLER: But if Russia has another bad year, and drought returns to states like Colorado, economists believe food shortages will be a concern.��

Back in eastern Colorado, farmer Mark Linnebur sees opportunity in all of this, but...

Mr. LINNEBUR: No, we never bust open champagne.

SIEGLER: Linnebur says American farmers like him could be in the Russian's position next year.

Mr. LINNEBUR: Because I might make a half million this year, I'm not going to build a half million dollar home.�I'm going to save that, because I've got to plan for the probability that next year's going to be a bad crop.��

SIEGLER: Linnebur sold more than half of his wheat already, and he wishes he'd held on to more because prices are still climbing. He may have a second chance. With wheat prices forecast to continue climbing, farmers must now decide how much wheat to plant for next year. Linnebur says that could affect his bottom line just as much as the Russian drought.

For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler.

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