License article

Wheat price rises amid Crimea tension but drought saps Australian hopes

Australian exporters are set to benefit from the spike in wheat prices as concerns about the crisis in Ukraine, supply delays in the Americas and fears about US winter wheat production raise the price of the commodity to its strongest yearly start since 2008.

Wheat prices have surged 13 per cent this year. On Monday Chicago Board of Trade May wheat rose to US692.75ยข a bushel.

''There's a lot of balls up in the air and no one has any confidence precisely in the way they are going to land,'' Commonwealth Bank agricultural commodity strategist Luke Mathews said. ''The market as we sit here today has built in a significant risk premium, recognising the uncertainty that exists.''

The Crimea crisis has boosted wheat prices because Russia and Ukraine are the world's fifth and sixth-largest wheat exporters, and make up 20 per cent of global wheat and corn exports.

Despite the rebound in prices, Australia's grain farmers are not celebrating yet as the drought across much of the country threatens to leave them with nothing to harvest.

NSW Farmers' Grain Committee chairman Dan Cooper said the unrest in Crimea was adding fuel to the fire in terms of prices, but the real issue was rain, and much of northern NSW might not be planted in April.


''They need six inches of rain to plant and that would be unseasonal. The window is closing for planting. Stress levels are rising and a lot of people are doing their budgeting with no crop factored in,'' he said.

''Wheat could go to $500 a tonne but it doesn't matter if you haven't got any to sell.''

The drought is weighing heavily on Australia's biggest listed agribusiness, GrainCorp. The east-coast grains handler, which is heavily dependent on the volume of grain that goes through its storage, rail and port network, is expecting net profit of between $80 million and $100 million in 2013-14 compared with a profit of $175 million in 2012-13.

Despite the unrest in Crimea, Rabobank is expecting an increase of 20 million tonnes to the global wheat stock because of favourable conditions in Europe and the Black Sea region.

Prices of other commodities such as crude oil, corn and natural gas have risen to multi-month highs amid fears that agriculture and energy supplies could be hit by the tensions.

Also due to uncertainty in financial markets investors have pushed gold prices close to a six-month high, with gold acting as a haven.