x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

As harvests fail around the world, weather is often seen as culprit

Whacky weather cuts global wheat harvests.

Blame it on the weather.

Whether because of drought in Russia, heavy rains on the Canadian prairies or floods in Australia, there is no doubt that global wheat crops have taken a beating this past year.

The multiple failed harvests and rising farm costs due to higher oil prices have pushed grain prices in major agricultural-exporting countries to some of their highest levels in years, with wheat among the most affected commodities.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has reported that its world food price index hit a record last month after rising 3.4 per cent from December.

"The new figures clearly show that the upward pressure on world food prices is not abating," said Abdolreza Abbassian, an economist at the agency. "These high prices are likely to persist in the months to come.

"High food prices are of major concern, especially for low-income, food-deficit countries that may face problems in financing food imports and for poor households which spend a large share of their income on food."

Moscow banned grain exports last August after a drought severely cut wheat and barley yields, resulting in a harvest about 30 per cent lower than average.

After domestic Russian bread prices rose sharply, Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, railed against commodity traders for "cashing in on the circumstances". Prosecutors raided Moscow bakeries after allegations of price gouging.

In the western hemisphere, farmers in Canada's main wheat-producing province of Saskatchewan could only shake their heads as torrential rains prevented them from seeding millions of hectares of agricultural land.

"What is typically the driest province was never wetter," the Canadian environment ministry said in its year-end review.

Floods continue to afflict Australia, leaving much of the country's recent wheat crop unsuitable for sale to quality-conscious customers. Most of the grain salvaged from waterlogged fields is likely to be sold as animal feed.

Climatologists link the past year's extreme weather, including severe winter snow storms across much of North America and Europe, with the periodic La Nina ocean current phenomenon in which abnormally cold sea temperatures develop in the southern Pacific off Chile.

La Nina occurs every few years, but the one that formed last year is among the strongest on record. It still has not dissipated. La Nina and its opposite, El Nino, have been recurring with increasing frequency and intensity since the 1970s. Some scientists believe the trend is linked to global warming.

 

tcarlisle@thenational.ae