Wheat is a widely cultivated crop whose seed is a grain used all over the world as a staple food. Of the thousands of known wheat varieties, the most important are common wheat (Triticum aestivum), durum wheat (T. durum), and club wheat (T. compactum). Wheat is cultivated as a cash crop, as it produces a good yield per unit area, grows well in a temperate climate with a moderately short growing season, and yields a versatile, high-quality flour. The majority of wheat flour is used to make products including bread, pasta, cereal, pastries, cookies, crackers, muffins, tortillas, and pitas.
Worldwide Wheat Production
Wheat is the second-most-produced cereal grain behind maize, and the global trade of wheat is greater than all other crops combined. In 2020, the total global production of wheat was 760 million tons. China, India, and Russia are the three largest individual wheat producers in the world, accounting for about 41% of the world’s total wheat production. The United States is the fourth-largest individual wheat producer in the world. However, the European Union, if it were counted as a single country, its wheat production would exceed that of any country except China.
Top 10 Wheat Producing Countries (in tons of wheat produced 2020)*
* As mentioned, the EU's production of 126,658,950 tons would rank 2nd if it were a single country. Values for countries 11-124 can be seen in the table below.
The impact of Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine on global wheat production
Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly 30% of the global wheat trade. As a result, Russia's 2022 military invasion of the Ukraine sent global wheat prices soaring, with Ukraine's production ability compromised and many countries restricting or shutting down trade relations with Russia. Russia is also a major supplier of fertilizer, which is vital to maximizing crop yields, which adds another layer of complication for farmers.
Wheat plants, uses, nutrition, and gluten
Like most grasses, wheat plants have long, slender leaves and stems and small flowers that are borne in groups called spikelets. The seeds that form on these spikelets are the portion of the plant harvested for food. Wheat can be grown in a variety of climates and soil, but is best grown in temperate regions that receive between 12 and 36 inches (30 to 90 centimeters) of rainfall. The wheat used for human consumption requires processing, where the grain is cleaned and broken up through the addition of water. Wheat that goes through milling is cracked and passed through rollers to create smaller particles. Almost three-quarters of the milled grain becomes flour. Additionally, wheat can be used for the production of starch, malt, dextrose, gluten, alcohol, and other products.
Wheat has a protein content of about 13% and is the leading source of vegetable protein in human food. It is also an important source of carbohydrates. When wheat is eaten as a whole grain, it is an excellent source of dietary fiber and nutrients. Wheat contains a protein called gluten, which can damage the small intestines of individuals who have Celiac disease, a genetically transmitted immune disorder. Gluten can also trigger non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia, and dermatitis herpetiformis.