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The Wonders of Wheat

Gregg Hillyer
By  Gregg Hillyer , Progressive Farmer Editor-in-Chief
(Progressive Farmer image by National Wheat Foundation)

Tracing wheat's journey from Old World to modern world will leave you in awe and wonder. Along the way, wheat has grown to become the most widely produced and consumed cereal grain in the world.

Its humble beginnings began in the Fertile Crescent, an area in the Middle East and Mediterranean Basin credited with civilization's first settled agricultural communities. Archeologists believe Einkorn wheat, one of the earliest cultivated forms, was first domesticated approximately 7500 BC. Others suggest it was cultivated much earlier, around 9600 BC. Regardless, the evolution of agriculture and our ability to process (mill), store, cultivate and trade grain marked the beginnings of civilization.

The Spaniards brought wheat to Mexico in the early 1500s. Cultivation gradually spread to the southwestern U.S., while other explorers took it to the East Coast, where colonists grew it as one of their main cash crops.

Today, the U.S. consistently ranks in the world's top five wheat-producing countries. Domestically, the leading wheat states in bushels are North Dakota, Kansas, Montana, Washington and Idaho. U.S. wheat exports last year totaled $6.3 billion.

Where once wheat may have been overlooked or underappreciated, winners of the 2020 National Wheat Yield Contest certainly prove otherwise.

This month, we profile the top growers in various contest categories. Their attention to detail and innovative ideas produced yields once thought only achievable by European wheat farmers known for their intensive management practices.

Of course, it's not just about yield. Some end users desire wheat with higher protein levels. For example, a Kansas wheat farmer is using a combine-mounted sensor to measure protein and capture a premium on every bushel he sells.

Wheat may have an ancient history, but it's future remains bright as the cereal crop breaks new ground in yield, protein and other performance measures.


The National Wheat Yield Contest turned 5 years old in 2020 and marked its third consecutive year that entrants topped 200 bushels per acre. DTN/Progressive Farmer is the official media outlet of the contest, which is sponsored by the National Wheat Foundation.

Wheat growers sent in a record 418 field entries from 29 states across the country, up 5% from last year, says Steve Joehl, wheat contest director.

The contest handed out four Bin Buster awards for the highest overall yield in four categories: irrigated winter wheat, dryland winter wheat, irrigated spring wheat and dryland spring wheat. The contest also recognized farmers who placed first through fifth place in those same categories, as well as awarding farmers who placed the highest above their county yield average in dryland winter wheat and dryland spring wheat.

Wheat contest winners must also pass a quality hurdle. Organizers send the entries out for lab analysis of their test weight, protein and other characteristics. Only Grade 1 and Grade 2 wheat is eligible for awards.

See the full contest results and learn how to sign up for the 2021 contest at wheatfoundation.org/projects-programs/national-wheat-yield-contest.

> Write Gregg Hillyer, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email gregg.hillyer@dtn.com.


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