International developments will just add to the already tough situation facing farmers here, it was warned on Wednesday night.
Huge amounts of the global wheat supply is produced by Ukraine and Russia and the disruption caused by the invasion, and bans on imports from the latter, will have a deep impact on food prices more generally, experts say.
Farmers are likely also to be hit because Russia controls a large chunk of the world fertiliser market, said Ulster Farmers’ Union president Victor Chestnutt.
“The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is putting the UK’s food supplies at risk. The latest international developments are adding to an already tough situation for farmers, created by existing price hikes,” he said.
“A ‘perfect storm’ is looming for the UK, as 30% of global wheat exports come from the two eastern European countries.
“Russia has considerable phosphate rock, potash, oil and gas reserves and is a primary producer of all three of the main commercial fertiliser nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium,
“They are self-sufficient and an important global exporter of fertilisers.
“IHS Markit estimate they account for around 13% of the trade for key fertiliser intermediaries, ammonia phosphate rock and sulphur, and almost 16% of global trade in the key finished fertilisers.
“Economic sanctions, therefore, could impact global fertiliser availability, tightening already tight balances.”
Fertiliser prices were already rising sharply since late last year.
Local bakers, from wholesalers to the high street, are likely to be among the first to notice increases in price amid expected worsening supply issues.
Mr Chestnutt’s comments follow those from Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots, who on Wednesday warned of possible food shortages.
Mr Poots said: “Ukraine is a supplier of cereals to Northern Ireland and consequently that has implications for the chicken, pork and diary industries in particular.
“We will seek to identify other sources, which will probably be North American. But the consequences of prices going up is inevitable.”
Wheat prices are already soaring, hitting a 14-year high on Tuesday, said Gro-Intelligence, an agricultural data analytics company.
The two countries are also significant exporters of barley, corn and sunflower oil.
Grocery prices in the UK already rose at their fastest rate (4.3%) in more than eight years last month, according to data from market analysts Kantar published on Tuesday.
Fraser McKevitt of Kantar said: “Apart from the start of the pandemic, when we saw grocers cut promotional deals to maintain availability, this is the fastest rate of inflation we’ve recorded since September 2013.
“Added to this, ongoing supply chain pressures and the potential impact of the conflict in Ukraine are set to continue pushing up prices paid by consumers.”
Food prices were also the main driver as overall UK shop prices rose at the fastest rate in a decade, the British Retail Consortium said.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the organisation, said: “Food inflation remained the key driver behind higher prices, particularly for fresh food.”