Kansas farmers may have missed out on wheat price spike

MINNEAPOLIS, Kan. — Steve Clanton flips through page after page of charts, pulls up electronic spreadsheets on his laptop computer and mentally thumbs through the know-how he’s piled up over 35 years of raising grain.

Yet no matter how he crunches the numbers, they don't offer easy answers.

How could a Russian drought in the age of instant information escape the world’s notice until the country’s wheat crop was devastated? When and where will the resulting tsunami in global markets settle? And does that mean he should plant wheat or soybeans, sorghum or corn?

July saw the biggest monthly gains in wheat prices in 51 years. Moscow, smothered in the smoke of wildfires from its drought-toasted plains, imposed an embargo on wheat exports.

Prices spiked, dipped, rebounded, fell. Consider December wheat futures at the Kansas City Board of Trade: $5.52 cents a bushel on May 5, $4.92 on June 10, $7.95 on Aug. 5 and $7.40 at the close on Friday.

"It looks the bubble has already come and gone," said the 60-year-old Clanton, who works 3,100 acres in central Kansas with his son-in-law. "I'd spend a lot of money to know what wheat prices will look like down the road. But you never know."

American consumers won’t much notice the wheat price increases — at most a nickel's difference on your loaf of bread, virtually undetectable in the cost of an Oreo. It could be more critical for the world's hungry as the price of a bushel shoots up.

It's hardly bad news for Kansas wheat farmers, although not the bonanza many might expect. The same precautions that farmers take to guard against the worst of times limit the potential upside of the best of times. Still, the mostly ballooning prices figure heavily in whether Kansas farmers will continue to move away from wheat toward other crops.

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