Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Our daily bread has more than crumbs of comfort

Toast. You probably had a slice or two this morning and you might even be tempted for a slice while reading this, taking advantage of the crumb gathering function which a tabloid format so neatly provides.

It might not seem like your normal indicator of economic health, but your daily bread really is special, being a product of flour, which comes from wheat, which is, without a doubt, one of the world's most important staple products. There are very few people in the world who don't buy a loaf of bread every day and or don't encounter bread in one form or another.

Anyway, in an effort to get underneath the skin of a market, this column stops at nothing, even going so far as to report, literally, from the field. A period of dry weather has meant combine harvesters up and down the country have been working day and night in an effort to bring home the harvest.

Northern Ireland doesn't produce a huge amount of grain, but for those that do, the price of a tonne of wheat has dipped back about 20% over the last couple of months as a result of events many miles away.

Last year, Russia implemented an export ban on grain after a disastrous harvest in the now mega producing region of the Black Sea and world grain prices sky rocketed. But with the new crop literally bearing fruit, the ban has since been lifted and world prices have tumbled.

So, for arable farmers in Northern Ireland, that means incomes have been trimmed but, as in every market, there are winners.

Firstly, there's the army of livestock farmers here who buy animal feed made primarily of grain to feed their animals.

Then of course there's you, who should eventually see lower bread prices.

I could go on, but we're shy of space today and there's still a few more hours of daylight.