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Drought Sending Pasta Prices Soaring

selective focus photography of fork with spaghetti

Pasta, that quick, go-to meal for hungry and cash-strapped college students and busy parents, is no longer the inexpensive choice it once was, with prices for noodles up 8% in the U.S. and 12% in Europe.

“Yes, like everyone else, we have been affected by wheat prices, Reza Soltanzadeh, founder of Palmetto Gourmet Foods, part of Borealis Food Co., told The Food Institute. “And it’s not just us but other food makers because wheat is such an essential ingredient in our global food chain. We’ve worked hard to reduce our costs to continue to keep our meals affordable.”

Drought in Canada has decimated that country’s 2023 crop, pressuring commodity prices in the U.S. The USDA’s August NASS Agricultural Prices report estimated average farm prices at $7.67 a bushel, moderating from August when bids were as high as $11.50 a bushel.

That compares to an average $4.94 before the pandemic.

In addition to unfavorable weather not only in Canada but in the U.S. and Europe, as well, the war in Ukraine and Russia’s refusal to renew a grain exporting agreement has put even more pressure on markets.

Statistics Canada said the Canadian wheat crop is expected to fall 14.5% to 22.1 million tons, with durum down more than 25% to just 26.8 bushels per acre.

“The pipeline in Canada is empty,” agriculture analyst Jerry Klassen told Reuters (Aug. 30).

Canadian farmer Darold Niwa told Reuters the drought has been so bad on his farm near Oyen, Alberta, that he’s seeing just six to eight kernels per head instead of the usual 45 to 52. Before mid-June, he thought he had a bumper crop.

The result is pressure on restaurants and consumers. Consumers, for example, are likely to see higher prices at the grocery store for packaged products.

With pasta considered an easy, cost-effective menu option at many restaurants, operators may see their margins squeezed further.

Professional baker and chef Sarah Bridenstine of Baking Kneads told FI that pasta makers would do well to take a page from bakers.

“[The situation is] reminiscent of the trouble that bakeries faced decades ago,” Bridenstine said. “I remember my mom adding alternative grains to her dough mix during that crisis. In a way, pasta makers pondering on the use of soft wheat echoes the same sentiment. Though a softer wheat might offer a different texture, this could be an opportunity to introduce a new culinary delight to the world.

“Many in our community believe it’s crucial for industries to be agile in their approach and anticipate such shifts.”

And the pain may not be over, Bridenstine continued: “If the International Grains Council’s predictions hold water, we might be looking at a considerable drop in global durum production in the coming year.”