A farmer inspects a sample of durum wheat from his fields. Durum is ground into the semolina flour used to make pasta. (AP)
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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) – From family dinner tables to fancy restaurants, plates of pasta are likely to be a little pricier in the coming year because of a disappointing durum wheat crop in the northern Plains and Canada.
Durum is ground into the semolina flour used to make pasta products. About half of the nation’s durum is produced in North Dakota, where wet weather during spring planting and the fall harvest led to a crop that’s more than four per cent smaller than last year’s, and of much poorer quality.
Nationally, the crop is about eight per cent smaller than last year and similar production problems in Canada and Europe brought the global production to its lowest level in 13 years, North Dakota Wheat Commission Marketing Director Jim Peterson said.
“There’s not enough (top-end durum) ... for everybody to pursue,” he said.
It’s led to soaring prices for the best durum, which is bad news for restaurants, particularly family run businesses like The Pasta Shop in Marquette, Michigan, which makes its own noodles. Owner Marc Reilly called the rising price of semolina “a nightmare”.
“Ten years ago I paid $8 for a 50-pound bag,” he said. “Last week I paid $38.98. It’s hard to keep up. I have to pass it on to customers. People think I’m trying to buy a new car, but I’m just trying to keep the doors open.”
Pasta is an American food staple, with the average person eating more than 15 pounds each year.
National Pasta Association Executive Director Carol Freysinger says consumers will “see some kind of impact at the grocery store” because of the durum dilemma, but didn’t speculate on how severe price increases might be.
Peterson said a price increase likely won’t be enough to turn shoppers away from noodles.