Russia’s wheat harvest is going up in smoke. For nearly a month, hundreds of wildfires have burned across the country, destroying hundreds of homes and devouring thousands of acres of farmland.
Fires began on July 29 when several small peat fires broke out in southern Russia. The fires were caused by a severe heat wave that has gripped Russia for several months which led to very hot and dry conditions in the peat bogs that dot Russia’s southern and central plains. In such conditions, peat can easily spontaneously combust easily.
Firefighters have been unable to contain the blaze due to hurricane-force winds and a severe lack of water caused by the worst drought Russia has seen in years. As a result, many of the fires continue to burn out of control, and new fires are being discovered as quickly as the old ones are extinguished.
The fires have unleashed a cloud of toxic smog that has enveloped Russia’s capital city, Moscow. Approximately 700 of Moscow’s residents die every day, almost twice the city’s normal mortality rate. More than 15,000 Russians are believed to have died since the heat wave began in late June.
In addition to the smog, the fires have also destroyed more than 20% of Russia’s annual wheat harvest.
In response, on Aug. 5, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would be suspending all exports of wheat, flour, oats, corn and barley from Aug. 15 until Dec. 31.
In a New York Times article dated Aug. 5, 2010, Putin said, “We need to prevent a rise in domestic food prices, we need to preserve the number of cattle and build up reserves for next year.”
As a result of the ban, wheat prices have skyrocketed.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the U.S. imports approximately 3 million tons of wheat grain per year, but the vast majority is purchased from Canada.
Therefore, these increases are unlikely to cause harm to American consumers. As a result, prices will likely rise somewhat but we should not see a dramatic increase.