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|Wheat output in|
Harvested wheat grain that enters trade is classified according to grain properties for the purposes of the commodities market. Wheat buyers use these to decide which wheat to buy, as each class has special uses, and producers use them to decide which classes of wheat will be most profitable to cultivate.
Wheat is widely cultivated as a cash crop because it produces a good yield per unit area, grows well in a temperate climate even with a moderately short growing season, and yields a versatile, high-quality flour that is widely used in baking. Most breads are made with wheat flour, including many breads named for the other grains they contain like most rye and oatbreads. The popularity of foods made from wheat flour creates a large demand for the grain, even in economies with significant foodsurpluses.
|Utensil made of dry wheat branches for|
loaves of br
In recent years, low international wheat prices have often encouraged farmers in the USA to change to more profitable crops. In 1998, the price at harvest was $2.68 per bushel. A USDA report revealed that in 1998, average operating costs were $1.43 per bushel and total costs were $3.97 per bushel. In that study, farm wheat yields averaged 41.7 bushels per acre (2.2435 metric ton / hectare), and typical total wheat production value was $31,900 per farm, with total farm production value (including other crops) of $173,681 per farm, plus $17,402 in government payments. There were significant profitability differences between low- and high-cost farms, mainly due to crop yield differences, location, and farm size.
In 2007 there was a dramatic rise in the price of wheat due to freezes and flooding in the northern hemisphere and a drought in Australia. Wheat futures in September, 2007 for December and March delivery had risen above $9.00 a bushel, prices never seen before. There were complaints in Italy about the high price of pasta. This followed a wider trend of escalating food prices around the globe, driven in part by climatic conditions such as drought in Australia, the diversion of arable land to other uses (such as producing government-subsidised bio-oil crops), and later by some food-producing nations placing bans or restrictions on exports in order to satisfy their own consumers.
Other drivers affecting wheat prices include the movement to bio fuels (in 2008, a third of corn crops in the US are expected to be devoted to ethanol production) and rising incomes in developing countries, which is causing a shift in eating patterns from predominantly rice to more meat based diets (a rise in meat production equals a rise in grain consumption—seven kilograms of grain is required to produce one kilogram of beef).
Production and Consumption
|Worldwide wheat production|
In 2003, global per capita wheat consumption was 67 kg, with the highest per capita consumption (239 kg) found in Kyrgyzstan. In 1997, global wheat consumption was 101 kg per capita, with the highest consumption (623 kg per capita) inDenmark, but most of this (81%) was for animal feed. Wheat is the primary food staple in North Africa and the Middle East, and is growing in popularity in Asia. Unlike rice, wheat production is more widespread globally though China's share is almost one-sixth of the world.
In the 20th century, global wheat output expanded by about 5-fold, but until about 1955 most of this reflected increases in wheat crop area, with lesser (about 20%) increases in crop yields per unit area. After 1955 however, there was a dramatic ten-fold increase in the rate of wheat yield improvement per year, and this became the major factor allowing global wheat production to increase. Thus technological innovation and scientific crop management with synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, irrigation and wheat breeding were the main drivers of wheat output growth in the second half of the century. There were some significant decreases in wheat crop area, for instance in North America.
Better seed storage and germination ability (and hence a smaller requirement to retain harvested crop for next year's seed) is another 20th century technological innovation. In Medieval England, farmers saved one-quarter of their wheat harvest as seed for the next crop, leaving only three-quarters for food and feed consumption. By 1999, the global average seed use of wheat was about 6% of output.
Several factors are currently slowing the rate of global expansion of wheat production: population growth rates are falling while wheat yields continue to rise, and the better economic profitability of other crops such as soybeans and maize, linked with investment in modern genetic technologies, has promoted shifts to other crops.
In the Punjab, India, and North China, irrigation has been a major contributor to increased grain output. More widely over the last 40 years, a massive increase in fertilizer use together with the increased availability of semi-dwarf varieties in developing countries, has greatly increased yields per hectare. In developing countries, use of (mainly nitrogenous) fertilizer increased 25-fold in this period. However, farming systems rely on much more than fertilizer and breeding to improve productivity. A good illustration of this is Australian wheat growing in the southern winter cropping zone, where, despite low rainfall (300 mm), wheat cropping is successful even with relatively little use of nitrogenous fertilizer. This is achieved by 'rotation cropping' (traditionally called the ley system) with leguminous pastures and, in the last decade, including acanola crop in the rotations has boosted wheat yields by a further 25% . In these low rainfall areas, better use of available soil-water (and better control of soil erosion) is achieved by retaining the stubble after harvesting and by minimizing tillage.
Wheat futures are traded on the Chicago Board of Trade, Kansas City Board of Trade, and Minneapolis Grain Exchange, and have delivery dates in March (H), May (K), July (N), September (U), and December (Z).
There are substantial differences in wheat farming, trading, policy, sector growth, and wheat uses in different regions of the world. In the EU and Canada for instance, there is significant addition of wheat to animal feeds, but less so in the USA.
The two biggest wheat producers are China and the EU, followed currently by India, then USA. Developed countries USA, Canada, Australia, the EU and increasingly Argentina are the major exporters with developing countries being the main importers, although both India and China are close to being self-sufficient in wheat. In the rapidly developing countries of Asia, Westernization of diets associated with increasing prosperity is leading to growth in per capita demand for wheat at the expense of the other food staples.
In the past, there has been significant governmental intervention in wheat markets, such as price supports in the USA and farm payments in the EU. In the EU these subsidies have encouraged heavy use of fertilizers inputs with resulting high crop yields. In Australia and Argentina direct government subsidies are much lower.
|Wheat at the anthesis stage (face view)|
Wheat normally needs between 110 and 130 days between planting and harvest, depending upon climate, seed type, and soil conditions (winter wheat lies dormant during a winter freeze). Optimal crop management requires that the farmer have a detailed understanding of each stage of development in the growing plants. In particular, spring fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, growth regulators are typically applied only at specific stages of plant development. For example, it is currently recommended that the second application of nitrogen is best done when the ear (not visible at this stage) is about 1 cm in size (Z31 on Zadoks scale). Knowledge of stages is also important to identify periods of higher risk from the climate. For example, pollen formation from the mother cell, and the stages between anthesis and maturity are susceptible to high temperatures, and this adverse effect is made worse by water stress. Farmers also benefit from knowing when the 'flag leaf' (last leaf) appears, as this leaf represents about 75% of photosynthesis reactions during the grain filling period, and so should be preserved from disease or insect attacks to ensure a good yield.
Several systems exist to identify crop stages, with the Feekes and Zadoks scales being the most widely used. Each scale is a standard system which describes successive stages reached by the crop during the agricultural season.
|Wheat spikelet with the three|
anthers sticking out
There are many wheat diseases, mainly caused by fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Plant breeding to develop new disease-resistant varieties, and sound crop management practices are important for preventing disease. Fungicides, used to prevent the significant crop losses from fungal disease, can be a significant variable cost in wheat production. Estimates of the amount of wheat production lost owing to plant diseases vary between 10–25% in Missouri. A wide range of organisms infect wheat, of which the most important are viruses and fungi.
The main wheat-disease categories are:
Seed-borne diseases: these include seed-borne scab, seed-borne Stagonospora (previously known as Septoria), common bunt (stinking smut), and loose smut. These are managed with fungicides.
- Leaf- and head- blight diseases: Powdery mildew, leaf rust, Septoria tritici leaf blotch, Stagonospora (Septoria) nodorum leaf and glume blotch, and Fusarium head scab.
- Crown and root rot diseases: Two of the more important of these are 'take-all' and Cephalosporium stripe. Both of these diseases are soil borne.
- Viral diseases: Wheat spindle streak mosaic (yellow mosaic) and barley yellow dwarf are the two most common viral diseases. Control can be achieved by using resistant varieties.
Wheat is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species including The Flame, Rustic Shoulder-knot,Setaceous Hebrew Character and Turnip Moth. Early in the season, birds and rodents can also cause significant damage to a crop by digging up and eating newly planted seeds or young plants. They can also damage the crop late in the season by eating the grain from the mature spike. Recent post-harvest losses in cereals amount to billions of dollars per year in the USA alone, and damage to wheat by various borers, beetles and weevils is no exception.  Rodents can also cause major losses during storage, and in major grain growing regions, field mice numbers can sometimes build up explosively to plague proportions because of the ready availability of food. To reduce the amount of wheat lost to post-harvest pests, Agricultural Research Service scientists have developed an “insect-o-graph,” which can detect insects in wheat that are not visible to the naked eye. The device uses electrical signals to detect the insects as the wheat is being milled. The new technology is so precise that it can detect 5-10 infested seeds out of 300,000 good ones.  Tracking insect infestations in stored grain is critical for food safety as well as for the marketing value of the crop
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