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Russian drought: When wheat withers, the world squirms

Russia imposed a ban on exports of wheat due to a severe drought, causing a spike in world prices. But the ban's most important effect may be to raise questions about long-term food security, especially if global warming continues.

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The Bolsheviks’ promise to bring “Peace, Bread, Land!” stirred Russia’s masses to revolution nearly a century ago much more than any theoretical appeal of communist ideology.

The importance of bread in that troika, and of keeping its price in check, may have been on Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin’s mind when he announced recently that Russia was suspending its wheat exports through the end of this year.

Russia’s worst drought in more than a century has cut the forecasted wheat harvest dramatically.

Mr. Putin’s abrupt decision in turn has roiled the world’s food commodity markets. Wheat prices shot up to near two-year highs and may go higher as buyers look elsewhere to make up the shortfall.

The good news is that, looking worldwide, wheat stocks are plentiful. In the US, the federal government projects the largest stocks in more than two decades, about 30 million tons, more than double the estimated exports that will be lost from Russia, the world’s No. 3 exporter. US farmers, who have been increasing their acreage devoted to wheat, stand to gain from a price surge.

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