Sunday, January 25, 2009

News from the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT)

The clams are roosting now--yeast has my attention in mid-winter.

Wheat futures are bouncing around $6 per bushel this week. Last February they were $24/bushel when the supplies tightened up.

In our reductionist world, we still buy grain by the bushel. Four pecks. I wonder how many traders know what a bushel is? I wonder how many care?

When you're dealing with tons of wheat, it is easier to weigh it. We really don't sell wheat by the bushel anymore. We simply redefined bushel as 60 pounds.

10 cents a pound. About a loaf and a half of bread's worth.

The wheat futures prices went up last winter--India, Argentina, and Canada all had problems with their crops, demand kept rising, and stockpiles fell.

Wheat quadrupled in price before falling back to 10 cents a pound.

40 cents a pound doesn't mean a whole lot to most of us here in the States--we grumble, but we pay far more for phones, video games, internet access, car insurance, and a whole lot of other things that won't make us dead if we lose them.

We have land, we have sun, we have water. We have money, too, but you can't eat cash.

My ancestors died with mouths stained green from grass, a land blighted with bad potatoes and bad politics, their land used to feed the cattle destined for a foreign land.

We are not so much more clever today. The rise in the wheat futures made news in the business section of the papers. It should have been news in every biology class.

You can only get so many calories out of the land in a year. Cash makes a lousy fertilizer.

If you want to teach biology that matters, you need to wander out of the textbook.


Souly Catholic said...

I was pinned short in my wheat positions last year. Crop reductions had much of the rise accounted for but rumors abound that the Canadian Wheat Board in their genius hedged the entire crop with MGEX futures instead of spreading them around. Rumor has it once they were pinned short the speculative houses took it too them in the epic run up. The joys of futures trading.

Barry Bachenheimer said...

"If you want to teach biology that matters, you need to wander out of the textbook..."

...and then stomp on it and throw it away. A textbook is not curriculum.

doyle said...

Dear Soully,

Yeah, I left out the hidden story of speculation--folks hanging onto their silo doors waiting for things to get even hotter--a bit like our housing market 3 or 4 years ago.

Dear Barry,

One of your students, a colleague of mine, called you "amazing" today. She described your class to a group of us.

I'm guessing you don't use a whole lot of textbooks.

(And you're dead on....)