Wheat Rationing? Seed Shortages?

Sharon March 19th, 2008

I’m hearing some interesting stories coming in about grain and seed availability.  What’s most interesting is that we aren’t just seeing problems in the Global South, but here in the US as well.

-Idaho Locavore reports that WaltonFeed seems to be out of most Organic Wheats. 

-Murray, a farmer and reader who produces organic seed for several small seed companies says he has had repeated calls from both existing customers and other seed companies seeking more seed – and he’s out of last year’s production.  Several companies that don’t normally buy from him are sold out of their normal varieties and desperately seeking substitutes.

-Perhaps most disturbing, a member of my food storage class from the Northeast reports that when she bought flour at Costco yesterday, there were set 50lb limits, and that the check-out person actually verified on her membership card that she had not previously bought flour at any other Costco.

 -Aaron tells me that there are no set limits at his local warehouse store, but that when he asked to buy 200 lbs, he was told that was “as much as we can sell you.”

- Littlebyte reports that her coop is experiencing “significant delays” in deliveries of several items, including whole wheat and whole wheat flour.  Their supplier told them that availability was tight throughout the system.

- As I reported yesterday, Fedco and Johnny’s seeds are out of some varieties and are experiencing much greater demand than usual.  A friend who runs an herb business tells me that her wholesale provider is also out of many seed varieties and says demand is way up.

As Aaron put it, we may be seeing the beginning of a real “threshold moment.”  Anyone else seeing delays? 

Note, it is not my claim that we are about to see massive food shortages – but I think we may see systemic problems with a few commodities, including wheat.  And there’s something about the psychological weight of not being able to buy bread that I think will connect the dots for folks about how serious this is.

 Besides all the usual culprits: biofuels, global warming  which seems to be proceeding apace, there’s also the danger of major wheat diseases, which the UN FAO suggests could cause famine. 

Since we’re already seeing violence over bread in places like Egypt, which is calling out the army to help stabilize the wheat crisis there.

 So, keep watching everyone!

 Sharon

39 Responses to “Wheat Rationing? Seed Shortages?”

  1. Well, the good thing about all these reports of shortages and higher demand and delays is – apparently we’re not the only ones that see the possibility of problems in the months and years ahead. Apparently there are a fair number of folks who are also thinking and preparing for problems – even if they tell themselves it’s “just in case.” So, to my mind, that’s a good thing.

    Oh, on the wheat – the white wheat is also apparently gone or close to gone, not just the red organic. They still have regular non-organic red wheat available last I looked. I don’t know what the constraints are on that, but I would guess it’s a more plentiful commodity than the other two. Hard to say. But at any case, it’s still available, for how much longer, I don’t know. I’m still planning to call sometime today and get some more information.

  2. MEA says:

    I hesitate to say this since in many ways I’m guilty of this, but I think we may see the begining of hording. I’m not sure where the line is between stocking up and hoarding, but certainly feel that if I have some of thing than my household and I can use before it spoils, it hoarding.

    MEA

  3. MEA, don’t fall for the old “hoarding” guilt trip.

    “Hoarder” is usually an epithet thrown around by those who have spent most of their lives sleepwalking through warning signs, and who, when they finally decide to do something to protect themselves find that it might be too late. At that point it’s a typical human reaction to blame someone else for their own lack of responsibility or foresight. Perhaps this a bit harsh, but it’s my opinion that anyone with a high school education or above (and that’s the vast majority of the adults in this country) should be able to sort through current events and use a little common sense to decide what to do about it *long* before things ever get to panic stage.

    Also, please consider that the people who maintain a decent amount of basic whole foods storage *all the time* are actually helping the system survive these sorts of high demand cycles by buffering the excessively high highs and keeping demand for whole foods (and therefore, production of these commodities) up during the low demand times. It’s the difference between saying “OMG, I have to have a 1000 lbs of this year’s wheat crop NOW!!!” and saying “hmmm, I might pick up an extra bag or two of wheat this month, but other than that, we’re pretty good to go – we’ve still got some left from what I bought last year.” (For those who do not know, wheat can easily be stored in good condition for many years, even without fancy packaging.)

    Until fairly recently, several months or a year’s worth of basic food storage was a survival issue ALL THE TIME in many places, this country included. Even hunter-gathering Native American tribes stored some food for the winter. It’s only the past three generations or so who have come to believe they are somehow immune to the natural and man-made episodes of famine that have plagued mankind for as long as we’ve been around.

    So please don’t feel guilty about being responsible about food storage for you family. If you are buying in bulk and using it before it goes bad, then imo it’s not hoarding.

  4. Maeve says:

    I have been procrastinating buying my garden seeds this year, and am -as I type this- buying my seed from Seeds of Change. I’ve been on the checkout page for 15 minutes, due to high volume. I’m not sure how long this will take, but a few of the varieties of veggies I’d wanted were already sold out ..

    re hoarding. Some definitions I’ve seen say anything more than a month or two worth of food is “hoarding”. Which is downright ridiculous when you’re looking at putting up a whole garden’s worth of food. If you’re worried that you might have more than you need, just keep an eye on your storage, and if something is getting near the end of its usefulness, and you can’t use it up, donate it to the food pantry.

    easy peasy.

    But I second the “don’t let them guilt you into not preparing” sentiment. I’m looking at our country in a recession, with rumor of depression on the wind, and I’m going to make sure my family will at least eat and wipe our butts in the event our income decreases.

  5. Heather Gray says:

    On the other side from the hoarding-accusers, are the folks who put up a year’s worth of food, like the Mormons, who I wouldn’t call hoarders. It’s a tradition/way of life that they probably kept up from the 1800s. Sometimes old ways are good ways. Certainly medieval and renaissance-times people kept more than a few months of food at a time!

    If anything, we’re going to be working on putting up _more_ food in storage. Otherwise, how can we be more self-sustaining? I can’t grow food in December, after all…

    Yesterday I started reading this essay, remembered that I hadn’t ordered grain seed yet, so I put in an order with http://www.dirtworks.net . We’re going to try growing oats and winter wheat this year, with help from some friends (they don’t know what they’re doing either, but company is always nice). I tried to order the organic soft white winter wheat but it had just sold out, so I’m getting the organic hard red winter wheat seed. OTOH, you can still get regular soft white winter wheat, or at least he’s pretty sure he’s getting some in by the end of the week.

    Dirtworks sells organic and non-GMO seeds, among other things, like food-grade diatomaceous earth (useful for lots of things), and are located in Vermont. They actually have a notice posted in the grains section (possibly other pages too) that says to order today because it might not be there tomorrow.

    I did get in my veggie seeds from Territorial Seed Company, including unfortunately one packet of hybrid seeds — I was so excited to find Chile seeds that I forgot to check that. And a friend of mine was at a flower show a couple of weeks ago that turned out to have Seeds of Change and a lot of other seed-sellers there, and went crazy buying seeds, some of which she’ll be sending to me. She’s pretty funny, actually — an avowed brown-thumb, I talked her into trying again last year, and she had enough successes that she’s expanding her efforts this year.

    Also have some seeds saved from last year, and bought a book on seed saving (from your recommended list a few months ago, I think), so we’ll be trying to save more seeds this year.

    If we manage to plant as much as we want to, and it all comes up, we might have more than a year’s worth of food by next fall :D But that’s okay, because then I can share some out with friends who don’t have big gardens or lots of money, or take some to the food pantry in town.

  6. Rebecca says:

    I think that the term “hoarder” may get thrown around a lot more if things get really bad, and that people who’ve stored their own may be stigmitized for “not sharing”. People who haven’t put anything away will be tempted to scapegoat anyone they can for the shortages -including “hoarders”. The government may even encourage this (as they did in WWII, if my memory serves me) to try to “even things out”.

    I’m going to call friends today to see if I can use their costco card.

  7. Segwyne says:

    I had great intentions of starting a garden last year, but never got my beds built. I am hoping and praying that the seeds I bought last year from Fedco are still good. I wonder what other grains can be substituted for wheat when making bread that might not be under such stressful demand.

  8. Segwyne,

    If your seeds were stored in a cool, dry, dark place, they should still be fine for the most part. Exceptions to this might be some herbs and onions. Any that have lost some vitality will likely still produce a crop if sown this year, you just have to sow them a bit thicker to get a good stand. Most garden seeds, if kept cool and dry will be in good shape for at least 3 years.

    As for substituting other grains and such for wheat, you can bake bread with a lot of different grains, but the texture and taste will be different from what you’re used to. Look around for some ethnic bread recipes, and see what you can find that use corn, rice, potatoes, barley, rye, oats, amaranth, bean flour, etc. If you are able to get some wheat or some wheat flour but are worried it’s not enough to last till the fall harvest, you might try adding some of these to your breads to extend what you do have. With some items, like the legumes, you will have the added benefit of upping the usable protein.

    Hope this helps.

  9. Amelia says:

    Rebecca, you’ll have to have your friends go with you to the warehouse: Costco cards have a photo of the member on them, and at least at my local they’re actually examining the cards, not just glancing to see that you have one.

    I live in Salt Lake City (no, I’m not LDS) and am fairly active in our local community group: next month’s activity is preparing 72-hour kits, and we’re expecting a substantial turn-out. I’m doing CERT training the next time there’s space available in the classes, and as my husband is an amateur-radio operator and has experience as a SKYWARN volunteer, our house will likely be the neighborhood communications post in an emergency.

  10. Just talked to my folks. They went to a local Sam’s Club today, and when they tried to buy a large bag of flour they found the shelf empty. I don’t know if they asked if there was more in the back or not. But for what it’s worth, that’s what I was just told.

  11. I was at Long’s Drugstore in Oakland today to pick up five pound bags of Gold Medal white flour @ .99 each. $.99 for five pounds. None in the store. “We sold out two weeks ago, ordered more but the order didn’t come last week when it was supposed to,” the manager said. “It should come in on Friday and we’ll honor that price.”

    There was plenty of flour at the regular supermarket, with Gold Medal 5# bags on sale 2 for $4 (twice the price of the Long’s sale -but they had it in stock).

    At my natural/bulk foods market, the organic bread flour that used to be $1.89 for a five pound, then went to 2.29 a few months ago, is now $4.99 for the five pound bag. Woops. 100% increase since the beginning of the year. But they have it in stock.

    I am stocking both regular and organic flour, feeling like “just in case” – we need to bake bread for the neighbors or whomever. Also I bought lots of pasta @ $.50 a pound – no it’s not organic. We’ll eat it or my brother will.

  12. I’m feeling in fact that I overspent. But OTOH we don’t have much stored and I bought lots of canned fruit and veg on sale; also stocked up on organic legumes and grains that we do eat regularly. Bought a 3 liter can of olive oil, which we eat a lot of. I’m going to be using vegetable oils more often in cooking, and reserving olive oil to finish off sauces or make dressings.

  13. MEA says:

    Thanks for the replies re: hoarding. I meant, and I think people realized this, “more of a thing than we can use before it went bad” than “some of a thing.”

    I certainly don’t want to discourage people from making preps. I certainly have. But I’ve also decided that I’m not keeping things that I can’t see an immediate use for (girls toddler clothes, for example) on the off chance my great grand children might need them. For me, it’s enough that I’ve got a basic wardrobe in that size on the off-chance a friend turns up with a small girl. (And it other sizes, and concentrating on unisex.) Of course it’s easy for me to say since I’ve the means and know how to whip up a few more garments as needed. But I’m reparing and freecycling as much as I can right now.

    And what this has to do with the price of wheat…?

    MEA

  14. I made a short grocery run to one of the local stores last night, and ran through the baking aisle to get some cornmeal. There were three older couples standing in the aisle next to a nearly denuded wheat flour section talking about their amazement at the rise in wheat prices, and trying to decide which of the smaller bags of flour that were still left were worth picking up for storage.

    However, there actually were some larger bags of flour, apparently going unnoticed, on the end cap of that same aisle. I saw them as I left the area, and pointed them out to the one couple that was still hanging around looking at the empty shelves. I stopped by another, higher priced grocery store on the way home (the first store didn’t have any cornmeal masa, which I wanted for tamales this week) and they still had full flour shelves as far as I could tell, including some larger bags. So there are large quantities still available, but it’s apparently getting a bit thin here at the lower priced grocery stores and bulk food places.

  15. CP says:

    I put in 200 lbs hard white winter wheat, 100 lbs soft white winter wheat and 100 lbs cereal rye in on 4 acres total here on my farm in Western NY. That planted about 2 acres of the hard white wheat, an acre of the soft white and an acre of rye.

    Normally here in Western NY we grow soft white and soft red winter wheats, not any of the hard wheats which are grown more in the plains. However from my research the soft wheats are used more for pastries and cookies and I want a bread wheat.

    This spring I have 200 lbs hard red spring and I’m hoping to get 200 lbs hulless oats, 200 lbs oats, 200 lbs spring triticale, and 100 lbs barley in.

    I have the spring wheat now but the hulless oats have been on back order since February and I need to wait for some money to get the rest of the grains.

    I had a little trouble getting the wheat last August, and I got the spring wheat in January.

    For those of you ordering winter grains, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are sold out until August again. Spring wheats are going fast now as well.

  16. I noticed that there were two articles about the flour shortages that seemed almost exactly alike, appeared within three days of each other last week; one in the oakland tribune (Cal.) and one in the NY Daily News. They each quoted local pizzeria owners and bakers about the price of flour. The resemblance was uncanny.

    Makes me wonder if there is a central news feed that sends out article “templates” to the papers and the reporters go out and get local sources to fill in the story. Makes me also wonder if the wheat shortage isn’t ginned up in part by a media effort to put people in a panic about … the wheat shortage. Suddenly everybody has heard about it.

  17. Article 1, March 3, 2008:

    http://www.insidebayarea.com/business/ci_8418651

    Article 2, March 5, 2008:

    http://www.nydailynews.com/money/2008/03/03/2008-03-03_wheat_prices_pinch_citys_restaurants.html
    Then there was this in NY Newsday in February:

    http://www.newsday.com/features/food/ny-liwhea215585718feb21,0,2822608.story

    but if you google wheat shortage, there have been articles about it for months and months. So maybe it’s not a conspiracy, just the zeitgeist at work.

    Anyway. The message is out there. People have heard. I saw a Chinese-American neighbor carrying a 25 pound sack of rice into his house yesterday as I was unloading my haul of grains and canned goods. Now he probably always bought grain in bulk, but still, it seemed like the whole neighborhood decided to stock up.

  18. Joan says:

    I actually was quite inspired to read about Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Fedco, and others selling out of organic seed. To me, this means that many more people are planting gardens, and doing so organically, and not necessarily that there is a major shortage of seed or that people are hoarding.

    It is wonderful if more people are growing food, especially organically!

    Joan

  19. Lori says:

    After reading this post, I called my local Costco today (Anchorage, Alaska), to ask if there was a limit on how much flour I could purchase. They replied that they had plenty of flour, and I could buy a whole pallet if I wanted, but that I wasn’t the first person to call with that question today. I will be getting some on payday.

    Lori

  20. I went to Sam’s Club today, and there wasn’t any shortage of staples at all: flour, rice, beans, cornmeal. But the store was almost empty, it was easy to find a parking place, and there weren’t any lines at the cash registers (they only had four cashiers working! at a Sam’s Club!).

    There’s something going on, not sure what.

  21. Amelia says:

    RedStateGreen, might it have been that many people have headed out of town for the Easter weekend?

    I’m off to my local Costco: we’re having a party to celebrate surviving yet another computer trade show, and making chili for 30. I’ll report back after . . . .

  22. I heard a bit on NPR about commodities trading and began to wonder…. what if a clever rich guy with media outlets who also trades commodities on a massive scale decided to seed the press with wheat shortage stories, generating a run on flour in the US?

    Not saying that the shortages are not real. BUT the timing of articles and similarity of some makes me think. Sharon is offline and hasn’t approved my post with links to three articles. I dunno. I just felt like I indulged in a bit of “panic buying” last week. But then again, I only have 25 pounds of flour so it’s not like I am overprepared or anything.

    Whenever stories appear in the press in clusters like that, I wonder what’s going on. That’s all. Somebody is indeed making money on wheat trading. Who? How? It’s not worth it to me to spend my life figuring it out. But everybody – be aware of panic.

  23. John says:

    It’s amazing how brain washed people are about “hoarding”. How do you define hoarding? Storing “X” amount of supplies that will last an “X” amount of time when in need? Simply Ridiculous. The word “hoarding” is used more freely by the goverment that needs to control the people and the lazy people who never took the time to store items and food before a problem arises. It seems to me that being called a hoarder should be worn as a badge of pride for those who choose to work hard to prepare before any situation became a reality. This is the Hypocrisy of goverment, which stores or “hoards” more food and supplies than anyone else. You are truly naive if you think those supplies are for the general public. Some are, most are kept in emergency bunkers to grossly overfeed the wealthy and the corporate elites. I would define hoarders as this: During massive food shortages or disasters, any people who CAN eat 5 course meals, 3 times a day, as they dump half eaten food in the trash, while people starve just out side their goverment bunkers or guarded houses, that is hoarding. Do not let the goverment or lazy skeptics use of a word like “hoarding”, be the reason you allowed your family to go hungry, stock up now before you wish you had. To hell with the political correct fools and thier word control over a free people. Wake up America, before you wake with a soldier standing over your wife’s bed.

  24. lydia says:

    These are great comments. I live in the city in Tacoma, Washington. I have always kept 75lb of pintos and 100 lb. of rice on hand al the time. I grew up poor, and that will do it to you, like growing up in the great depression did to my parents. Anyway, food prices here are going up almost daily, and have been for several months. Gasoline is 3.51 a gallon. One good thing is for other people is I stopped eating wheat-found out i am allergic-so one person can eat my bread instead of me. With the cost of seeds, oil and shortages, I have been saving open pollinated seeds and such for a couple years now. I still buy some, but beans, squash and othe4r large seed are very easy to save. As far as hoarding, I say charity begins at home, and if everyone who “hoards” does a good job, then people too stupid not to will be knocking on our doors and then maybe they will learn. And wwe can share. No one wants other people in the neighborhood to starve or go without. I have been stocking up on thrift store clothes, sleeping bags, candles, and lots of survival type stuff for a few years now. No power? Candles and oil lamps will come in might handy.

  25. Justin Credible says:

    “Besides all the usual culprits: biofuels, global warming which seems to be proceeding apace,…”

    Maybe you haven’t heard, but the jig is up.

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23411799-7583,00.html

  26. Re: “HOARDING”

    In any serious economic downturn, it is the SLACKERS who throw the “hoarder” bomb at those who had wisely thought to make preparations for coming hard times.

    So, if you’ve made preparations and someone calls you, “hoarder,” fire back with “slacker.”

  27. jr says:

    I read with interest and some surprise the responses to “hoarding”. I am not sure whether any of the respondents had firsthand experience of times as they might be ahead of us. I do. I grew up in Germany at the end of WW2 and only can hope that the times might not get as bad as that. (I am probably and regretfully wrong on that.) As I recollect it was not food shortages per se but the progressive atomization of society that was worse. Only in places where this development toward social chaos was prevented by individuals or communities, times were much better despite the lack of food.
    Although I fully agree with the notion of a stored food supply as you urge it on your site I am a little bit dismayed that the “civic” requirements – not based on constitutions , legal or philosophical constructs but on basic human principles and necessities are not being recognized and given sufficient voice. The slide towards each for him- or herself in hard times is inevitable and natural and has to be avoided with counteractions all the time and this has to start now. Germany was able to move out of its dark post war period mainly because of outside resources and forces. We should not count on such a lucky circumstance. We will have to depend on our own abilities and the most important one seems to me is the capability for selfless compassionate sacrifice for the ” greater common good”.
    This however is not a byproduct of some “invisible hand” but the result of a constantly practiced and reinforced frame of mind.

  28. kjnm says:

    News story today about Sam’s Club, etc limiting rice purchases:

    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-rice24apr24,0,3320375.story

  29. Jenny says:

    I live on a small farm in Kansas. Last fall we had trouble finding enough hard red winter wheat to plant for 10 acres. It was double in price.

    The shortages of wheat are like a house of cards…many of the smaller farmers ( including myself) are wanting to store their wheat crop after harvest this summer. Part of this is to see where the market price will go…also to store for see to plant in fall because seed is scarce and very expensive. Storing the wheat grain for food is top priority with me. Midwestern mentality in the “good old days” was to have a good 6 month-1 year supply of food on hand. My grandparents generation did this without fail…canning, putting by, saving resources and wasting nothing. I am heartsick, frightened to see so many of the population unprepared for hard times and possible food shortages. I am a wife/mother and the natural ‘hoarding instinct’ is kicking in…thus storing the grain to grind for flour for bread for my family. I hope that those of us that are prepared, and have adequate resources will be willing to help our fellow citizens that don’t. We can’t depend on the gov. to do so. It will come down to the ‘kindness of strangers” I suppose…like in the world wars. Door to door…house to house…

  30. Robert says:

    As the theme of most who have commented, may i add that the foolish will scoff at the wisdom of those who prepare for the outcome the foolish naysayers said could not happen.

    The Anti-Christ has shown himself, an all believers will see him for who he is; soon enough.

    May The Lord be with us!

  31. Dave C says:

    The Boy Scout motto is “be prepared.” I think there is wisdom in these words. Like our ancestors in the great depression. Many of them were prepared to survive although not well, because they knew how to grow food, save seed, make almost everything they needed, and how to be self sufficient. The 7,000,000 people that weren’t prepared and didn’t know these basic skills starved to death in the great depression. Seven million died of starvation. During the depression, they were 90% self sufficient at that time. Today we are 10% self sufficient. Today, who knows how do to any of the basic survival stuff anymore, not very many people, just a few of the older generation and those that have started getting prepared. I think those that don’t learn how to be frugal, make do without, and stock up in advance will complain, but ultimately face the consequences of their actions and die. Our ancestors laid up in store the bounty each year enough to last through the winter. They knew how to run a household and make almost everything they needed from scratch. I know very few people that can even cook from scratch, let alone make soap, sew, build a house with an ax, etc. I think it is going to get really ugly in American and then around the world. I hope all of you naysayers are quick learners.

  32. Anonymous says:

    coach or juicy i love their bags. but they can be pricey, but honestly i don’t care because i am RICH i tell you RICH!!! MWHAHAHAAA!

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