U.S. Farmers Head Into Key Stretch for Harvests

Wind power won't push these giant combines throught the fields. It takes FUEL to till, plant ,and harvest America's demand for food.

Scott Kilman|The Wall Street Journal

The world is consuming grains faster than farmers are growing them, draining reserves and pushing prices to the levels that fueled food riots in poor countries three years ago.

The U.S.’s role in keeping a global food shortage at bay hinges in large measure on harvests over the next several months as farmers in the U.S., the world’s biggest agricultural exporter, coax wheat, soybeans and other crops from their fields. That outlook is likely to be reinforced Thursday when the U.S. Agriculture Department releases its monthly update on world agricultural markets.

Economists expect world wheat production to recover this year as drought conditions ease in the Black Sea, which would reduce U.S. wheat exports and cause prices to moderate. While economists expect grain prices to ease somewhat if world harvests climb this year, prices would still be expected to remain high for years. What’s more, anything less than big crops could cause wild price swings.

“The stage is set for very serious disruptions, should weather disasters happen,” said Keith Collins, the former chief economist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “It seems clear to me that the chance of a more widespread global food crisis has increased.”

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