Pasta Prices Rise: It's as American as Farfalle


It's still raining in North Dakota, and the price of pasta, couscous and other grain-based products is going to raise significantly over the next year. And yes, these things are connected, because pasta has become as American as apple pie and the square dance (North Dakota's state dance, don't you know?).

North Dakota is prime territory for the cultivation of durum wheat, the basic ingredient in pasta and couscous. In March, 1.69 million acres were planted; in Montana, the next-largest durum wheat-producing state, only 500,000 acres of durum wheat were planted.

Planting generally takes place all the way through the end of June in most years, but due to flooding and extensive rainfall, North Dakotan farmers stopped planting June 19th and never took it up again. Due to the early stoppage, only 44% of its yearly crop was planted, and durum wheat futures -- which last year ranged between $5 and $9 a bushel -- have spiked to an average of $15 a bushel, three times the price at harvest in September 2010.

While this spike might normally be attributed to a temporary supply/demand freakout, quickly mollified by new plantings or a balance of supply in Canada, whose durum wheat production is typically two or three times that of the U.S., this year, "unrelenting rain across large areas of Western Canada" has durum wheat plantings at 3.4 million acres according to the Canadian Wheat Board. That's twice North Dakota's acreage, to be sure, but it's still the least since 1971 and not enough to make up for the hole in North American demand.

We eat a lot of pasta.