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Pasta plates to cost more as durum wheat becomes scarce

01 October 20234 min reading

A global shortage of durum wheat, caused by droughts in Canada and adverse weather conditions in Europe, is sending shockwaves through the pasta industry, resulting in higher prices for the beloved Italian staple. As the supply of this essential raw material dwindles, experts predict that pasta lovers worldwide may soon have to dig deeper into their pockets to savor their favorite dishes.

The International Grains Council (IGC) has sounded the alarm, projecting that global durum wheat production for the 2023/24 season will hit its lowest point in 22 years. To compound matters, the IGC anticipates that worldwide durum wheat stocks will plummet to their lowest levels in three decades. This scarcity has pushed Italy’s renowned pasta manufacturers to seek alternative sources for their essential ingredient, such as Turkey.

Market research firm Nielsen reports that retail pasta prices have surged by approximately 12% in Europe and 8% in the United States this year alone. In Canada, where durum wheat holds significant importance, the price of a 20-kilogram bag of semolina flour crafted from this wheat variety soared by 24% in a matter of weeks, reaching $19.15 by July.

Vincent Liberatore, one of the owners of Continental Noodles based in Toronto, expressed concern over the situation in Canada, the largest exporter of durum wheat. He noted that farmers are anxious about further price hikes as drought continues to devastate their crops. While Liberatore pledged to absorb as much of the cost increase as possible, uncertainty looms over how much more consumers will ultimately pay.

DROUGHT HITS DURUM WHEAT IN CANADA

Canada typically accounts for about half of the world’s durum wheat trade, but this year’s harvest is predicted to be the country’s second smallest in over a decade, producing only 4.3 million tons, according to Statistics Canada. The United States, another major durum wheat producer, faces a similar predicament due to drought, as does Europe, where Spain’s production has suffered from water scarcity, while Italy and France grapple with the negative impact of severe weather conditions on quality.

The deteriorating supply situation led the Euronext futures price indicator (EDWc1) to reach a six-month high in early August, prompting Algeria, a major importer, to cancel its durum wheat tender during the same month.

TURKEY BECOMES EXPORTER OF DURUM WHEAT

As Italy, the world’s leading pasta exporter, grapples with a shortage of locally-produced durum wheat, it has turned to imports to meet its demand. Turkey, in a surprising turn of events, has emerged as an unexpected exporter of durum wheat. Market estimates indicate that Turkey’s durum wheat exports this season have already reached 300,000 tons, with Italy as the primary destination. Traders believe that Turkey is capitalizing on a bumper harvest and high stocks to reverse its traditional role as a durum wheat importer. Exports from Turkey are projected to reach 500,000 tons, and this figure could potentially soar to 1 million tons, pending government approval.

Experts warn that once Turkey’s stocks are depleted, durum wheat prices may escalate once more. Russia, too, has contributed to easing short-term supplies, having shipped over 100,000 tons of durum wheat to the European Union since July, according to import data.

Despite assurances from pasta industry giant Barilla that there is no imminent supply crisis, it is widely acknowledged that the current global durum wheat supply will not be sufficient to meet demand. Consultancy firm Strategie Grains, based in France, speculates that pasta producers might resort to using more soft wheat, where regulations allow and consumer budgets are constrained, as an alternative to durum wheat.

The confluence of droughts, adverse weather, and a global durum wheat shortage is making the cost of pasta soar, casting a shadow on the future of this beloved culinary delight. As consumers brace for higher prices, the industry is navigating a challenging period.

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