The thought of dough rising is usually a good thing, but not when you’re talking about the rising costs of flour lately. Tom “The Dough Doctor” Lehmann talks in depth about the situation, and what your options are, in the upcoming April issue, and provides a brief introduction to the problem here.
To fully appreciate what is happening, go back a number of years, to when many people moved from rice-based diets to wheat-based diets. Everything went along smoothly until Mother Nature began to stir the pot: Extreme drought in Australia; poor growing conditions, in general, in much of Latin America; and a combination of weather-related conditions leading to crop failure and diminished harvest yields in the United States and part of Canada have all contributed toward reducing the world inventory of wheat to something less than possibly two weeks’ worth. Factor in yet another stirring spoon–this one self-induced, the use of valuable wheat-producing acreage for ethanol-producing crops–and you have a recipe for disaster.
Much of our country’s wheat, and a good deal of the wheat in Canada, is going to fill contracted international tenders for wheat; and, with so many countries out of the wheat export market, the cost is high and the availability is very tight. Many of the U.S. wheat millers are reporting that they should have enough wheat stock to get them through until the new wheat crop is harvested in June and July (for hard red winter wheat, used mostly for making bread-type flours) and late July through August (for hard red spring wheat, most commonly used for making pizza flours). The success of both harvests is critical for shaping the overall wheat picture this year. Due to the extreme shortage of winter wheat, many bakers have switched from winter wheat-based flour to spring wheat-based flour, putting a further burden on the supplies of spring wheat. If we have a good winter wheat harvest, the bakers should switch back to winter wheat-based flours again, taking some of the strain off spring wheat supplies; however, if we have another disastrous winter wheat crop harvest this year, even more pressure will be put upon the spring wheat supplies as even more bakers are forced to use spring wheat flour. And even if we get a decent spring wheat harvest, we are far from out of the woods, as speculation will still run rampant in wheat pricing due to the continued short supplies. It is speculated that wheat inventories will remain tight, regardless of the U.S. wheat harvest, due to the shortage in world wheat inventory, and that pricing won’t return back to normal levels until the other wheat-exporting countries resume normal exportation of wheat again. Remember, we’re dealing with acts of nature here, so it’s anybody’s guess what lies in the future for those countries.
My own take on the situation is that we are going to have to cope with this situation for at least several years. For the immediate issue at hand, what can we do about rising flour prices? I don’t think we have any other option except to pass the price increases on to the consumer. Like a friend of mine always says, “It’s a heck of a way to do business, but it sure beats the alternative.”
To find out more, check out the upcoming April’s edition of The Dough Doctor.