Corn, wheat, soybean and oats prices were approaching the end of 2010 at or near two-year highs, and strong demand coupled with uncertainty about supply and 2011 production may set the stage for high and volatile ingredient prices next year.

Although none of the major commodities — wheat, corn, soybeans — were near the record levels set in 2008, all reached their highest levels since that dramatic year. And compared with a year ago, prices near the end of 2010 were up significantly.

At last week’s close, nearby March soybean futures were up more than 30% from a year ago. March corn and Chicago wheat futures were up about 50% and March Kansas City and Minneapolis wheat futures were up more than 60%. Corn, soybeans and oats prices were the highest in more than two years. The exception was rice, which has been pressured by record-large U.S. and global crops even if quality is suspect in the domestic crop.

The soy complex may be the most intriguing market going into 2011. In its recent Oilseeds Outlook, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said soybean prices may eclipse 2008 levels based on strong exports and tight ending stocks. The Department forecast the average 2010-11 soybean price to range from $10.70 to $12.20 a bu, above the previous record of $10.10 in 2007-08 and compared with $9.97 in 2008-09 and $9.59 in 2009-10.

Despite record-large U.S. soybean production in 2010, ending stocks on Aug. 31, 2011, were forecast at only 165 million bus, above 151 million bus in 2010 and 138 million bus in 2009 but below 205 million bus in 2008 and less than a third of 574 million bus in 2007.

The keys to U.S. soybean prices are demand by China and production in South America. Although U.S. soybean exports have slowed during the last few weeks, the U.S.D.A. has forecast record-large shipments of 1,590 million bus in 2010-11, up 6% from the previous record of 1,501 million last year. For the marketing year through Dec. 16, sales commitments were up 12% from the same period last year.

Corn prices have shown the most strength in recent days with the nearby contract at the highest level since the record high above $8 in July 2008. Corn ending stocks on Aug. 31, 2011, were projected at 832 million bus, less than half the 1,708 million bus in 2010 and compared with 1,673 million bus in 2009, 1,624 million bus in 2008 and 1,304 million bus in 2007.

Wheat prices have demonstrated remarkable strength, driven mainly by world weather problems in Russia and Australia that limited global export supplies.

While some private analysts already have released projections for 2011 U.S. corn, wheat and soybean plantings, others contended it was just too early to have good numbers. Much can happen before the spring, including foreign production and demand changes, and especially price moves.

“It will be really interesting as we get closer to spring to see what happens with acres,” one corn trader said.