Americans Hoard Food for Keeps or to Send to Relatives Overseas, Investors & Speculators Drive Up Prices

Food riots around the world: Food riots at Port Au Prince, Haiti and El Salvador.

El Salvador women took to the streets protesting and banging pots and pans: “Dying of hunger because we’re on a minimum salary … Every day the cost of corn and flour go up.”

Americans are stocking up on staples such as rice, flour and cooking oil in anticipation of high prices and shortages such as those occurring overseas.

Costco, Walmart and other grocery stores in California reported a run on rice, which has brought limits on how many sacks of rice each customer can buy.

Investors and speculators are attracted to futures markets for corn, wheat, rice and other commodities and are driving up prices in a way that makes it difficult for farmers to run their businesses. Even major Wall Street firms and hedge funds have taken huge positions in futures markets, usually the domain of small operators such as farmers and grain-elevator owners.

Doubling rice and wheat prices in the past year is a result of strong demand after personal income growth in China, India and other Asian countries, has resulted in people buying more food and eating more meat from farm animals that consume grains.

Commodities Increases Over the Past Year:
Rice           122%
Wheat           95%
Soybeans        83%
Crude oil       82%
Corn            66%
Gasoline        41%
Gold            37%
Sugar           30%
Coffee          24%
Milk             5%
Live cattle     -7%
Lumber         -14%

United States wheat stocks (inventory) are the lowest in 60 years after worldwide consumption has exceeded production six of the last eight years.

More corn is being used to create biofuels, which has affected other commodity prices because of competition of farm acres for crops among soybeans, cotton and corn.

Farmers are also hard hit by increasing cost of diesel fuel and nitrogen fertilizer (made of natural gas). The National Farmers Union publishes the Farmer’s Share that reveals that farmers and ranchers receive only 20 cents of every food dollar that consumers spend on food at home and away from home. According to the USDA, off farm costs including marketing, processing, wholesaling, distribution and retailing account for 80 cents of every food dollar spent in the United States.

Chicago Board of Trade —

U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission —
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Grow Your Finances In The Grain Markets
(explanation of hedgers, speculators, futures, leverage, margin, margin trading, margin account, advantages of grain contracts, advantages of grain contracts: corn, wheat, soybeans, soybean oil, soymeal, rice)

National Farmers Union —