Prices of wheat, rice, and other staple grains are increasing rapidly, doubling in some cases. There’s been food riots in various cities around the world, and government-mandated price controls and halts on exporting. What can you do? The supply of wheat and other grains is pretty tight, as the main harvests are still a couple of months away, stockpiles are at unprecedented lows, and a lot of agricultural acreage is being shifted to production of biofuels instead of fuel crops.
Option 1: Stop growing what entirely. Rely on your essentially guaranteed foreign income to purchase as much wheat as you need. This is the route that Saudi Arabia is taking, as outlined by the Financial Times on February 28, 2008.
Saudi Arabia plans to halt wheat production by 2016 because of concerns about the desert kingdom’s scarce water resources, according to a US government agency [the U.S.D.A.]. The Saudi Arabian government has not publicly given details of the move, which comes as global cereal prices surge, driven by strong demand and lagging supply. Top-quality wheat prices for baking bread hit a high this week of $25 a bushel and have more than doubled since January.
The forecasted increase in demand from Saudi Arabia, in addition to already high consumption in the region – Egypt is the world’s second largest wheat importer – would tighten global wheat supplies even further, analysts said. The US report said that “the main reason for change in the local wheat production policy was concern over the depletion of fossil water since the crop is grown on 100 per cent central pivot irrigation”.
However, water resource issues have previously led to reduced production of wheat and other grains. Demand for water is increasing rapidly in Saudi Arabia as the population has swelled from 7m in 1974 to about 24m, and the economy expanded during the oil boom, with the government seeking to boost industry. The country has no permanent rivers or lakes and very little rainfall, and the government has relied on dams to trap seasonal floods, tens of thousands of deep wells and 27 desalination plants.
This option is pretty extreme, and my guess is that the Saudis must really be worried about permanently depleting the nation’s aquifers. After all, it’s a lot easier and cheaper for a desert country to import their food than their water. This is still somewhat of a risky strategy for them, though. Saudi Arabia will probably be able to pull it off, as they have large foreign currency reserves and continue to earn significant amounts of foreign currency through oil sales. Unless that changes drastically, Saudi Arabia will have the cash on hand to buy wheat, and will be able to outbid other importers to assure a steady supply. Wheat prices in Saudi Arabia will probably go up, but I’d venture that higher wheat prices are less socially destabilizing than the prospect of extremely limited fresh water supplies.
Option 2: Grow your own wheat. Don’t rely on a global supply chain or risk astronomical prices, ensure that you will have your staple grain by growing it in your garden. The BBC actually presented an article about growing your own wheat, complete with a how-to guide, on March 10, 2008.
The world is running dangerously low on wheat, one of civilisation’s original staple foods. Drought in Australia and China and a switch to meat in the newly prosperous parts of the world are putting the squeeze on wheat. Prices are at a record high.
Baker and organic food campaigner Andrew Whitley believes the answer lies in your back garden and that it’s time, as he puts it, to “bake your lawn”. He is launching the Real Bread Campaign.
“If wheat makes bread why not grow bread just like you grow vegetables. We think of it as being a massive prairie-style enterprise but it is just a plant like anything else. It’s like grass.
“There are few things that give greater satisfaction than being able to grow something and harvest it and share it with friends and family.”
The following illustrations give a simple step by step:
But Whitley knows most people will not be able to grow all their own wheat and suggests even producing a couple of loaves-worth a year would be a triumph.
Those in the wheat industry are a little sceptical to say the least. Martin Caunce, owner of Brow Farm in west Lancashire, sells milling wheat and hand-operated mills so people can produce their own flour, but suggests most people will not want to take the final step and grow their own wheat.
“It is more feasible to grow your vegetables and buy your bread,” he says. “It takes too much space. You just couldn’t make it pay.”
So, we’re all probably not going to be growing our own wheat. Perhaps, just perhaps, we’ll be collectively be paying a local farmer to grow it an than either milling it ourselves or paying our local miller to do it. (Ever wonder where all the people with the last name of Miller came from?) Either way, it’s very interesting that the BBC published rough instructions to growing your own wheat, even half in jest.