Crop Scouts Measure Kansas Wheat

By: Tom Polansek, Wall Street Journal
By: Tom Polansek, Wall Street Journal
Pakistani workers transfer wheat from a central government warehouse to be sent out to locations around Pakistan Tuesday Jan. 15, 2008, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.  Shortages and rising prices of basic foods have deepened the unpopularity of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's government and will be the burning issue in elections next month - even overshadowing concern about terror attacks that have left hundreds dead and killed the main opposition leader. (AP Photo/Ed Wray)

Pakistani workers transfer wheat from a central government warehouse to be sent out to locations around Pakistan Tuesday Jan. 15, 2008, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Shortages and rising prices of basic foods have deepened the unpopularity of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's government and will be the burning issue in elections next month - even overshadowing concern about terror attacks that have left hundreds dead and killed the main opposition leader. (AP Photo/Ed Wray)

Food makers are in the wheat fields of Kansas this month getting an early read on the U.S. crop, and possibly on commodity costs in the months ahead.

General Mills, Inc., Sara Lee Corporation along with Nestle SA are expected to send employees to the national breadbasket as part of Kansas's annual crop tour. They're joining government officials, millers and reporters tagging along, to produce their annual assessments on the impact this spring's dry conditions are having on the Kansas 2011 wheat crop.

A record number of people are set to join the tour as worries grow about the impact a poor harvest could have on wheat prices, according to Ben Handcock, the executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council, an industry group that sponsors the tour. Kansas lst year grew 16% of the country's heat and is the top U.S. producer of hard red winter wheat, the variety milled into flour forbread. Prices for hard red winter wheat have nearly doubled since last summer with concerns about low supplies. Costs might surge even further for food makers and restaurants alike if the Kansas crop looks worse than expected.

"Everybody wants to see this bad wheat to see if it's true," Handcock says.

Rising commodity prices are pushing up the costs of flour, corn-based sweeteners and beef, among other products food makers and restaurants rely on. Commodity costs promise to be a top issue for many food companies around the nation.


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