Will County farmer paying higher prices due to Russia-Ukraine war

Russia's invasion of Ukraine threatens to disrupt up to 25% of the world's wheat production — a big reason grain prices are soaring around the world.

That promises to benefit farmers here at home.

"I have the opportunity to make more money because of the war in Ukraine," noted John Kiefner, a farmer near Manhattan, in southern Will County. "And that bothers me some nights."

Kiefner's preparing to plant corn and soybean on land in southern Will County farmed by his father and grandfather before him. Suburban subdivisions now loom over some of his property.

But the wheat in one of his fields, assuming a normal growing season, is now worth thousands of dollars more than when Kiefner planted it last October. The Ukraine war at one point this month drove wheat prices up by 41%.

Kiefner has tempted to change some planting plans.

"My hay fields could very easily turn into wheat, corn or soybeans," he said. "And I have to wonder if that's the smart thing to do at this point."

The last time wheat prices in particular soared like this, millions of people went hungry in the Middle East and across Africa. Several governments collapsed, and it helped to trigger the so-called "Arab Spring."

Assistant Professor Joe Janzen is an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois.

"Ee're going to see more production. The (higher prices are) incentive … to produce more, to fill in the gap left by the loss of production from Ukraine and Russia," he said.


After lying dormant all winter, Kiefner's wheatfield greened up about 10 days ago. He said it’s on track for a July Fourth harvest.

Kiefner hopes to reap about 7,500 bushels and will store them in grain bins, selling when he feels the price is right.

"I'm a businessman," said Kiefner, a board member of the Will County Farm Bureau. "I’ll do what makes the most money."

Farmers like Kiefner also face soaring prices for things they must buy. Turns out Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a huge source of fertilizer and the economic sanctions blocking trade with Russia has sent fertilizer costs spiraling upward.

Kiefner said he paid $200 a ton for nitrogen fertilizer last fall. With the Ukraine war, he said, it's now more than tripled to $650 a ton. He usually purchases about 25 tons annually. Still, Kiefner counts himself lucky when he hears of counterparts in Ukraine targeted by Russian invaders.

"I don't have enemy jets flying over… worrying if  they're going to bomb my grain bins or raid my grain bins or strafe my tractors," he said.