When the subject of agriculture comes up the focus usually starts with corn. It is the price of corn or the genetic modification of corn, ethanol (food vs. fuel), trade or the regulatory process here in the US and its synchronization with other countries. Just last month, the US-China trade talks centered on China’s arbitrary rejection of US corn. The agriculture conversation may then expand to include soybeans, cotton or animal agriculture. Rarely, however, does the conversation include wheat. Have you noticed?Wheat remains both the most overlooked commodity produced in the US and, at the same time, the staff of life.
Wheat accounts for 20% of all the calories consumed worldwide, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. While there are more than 50,000 edible plants, most of the human population lives on a diet of wheat, rice and maize, along with roots and tubers (including cassava), soybeans, sorghum and animal products. The relative importance changes with geography. "In Africa, wheat is most important in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda and seed research is being conducted in Ethiopia" said Dr. Joe DeVries with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. In 2011, wheat comprised 46% of all U.S. food aid donations; worldwide food aid donations were 40% wheat.
Our major wheat producing states tend to be Kansas, North Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, Washington and South Dakota. Each of these states produces over 100,000,000 bushels, averaging 47 bushels per acre. We produce all 6 classes of wheat and can export all 6, making us a unique and reliable supplier.
Over 160,000 farms in the United States produce wheat with a total production of 2.2 billion bushels. The National Association of Wheat Growers serves as the national advocacy organization for wheat farmers composed of 22 different state wheat grower associations.
Wheat is essentially a grass that can be traced back to the cradle of civilization. Within the US, wheat was first planted in 1777 and one of the first Americans to plant wheat was George Washington. Disappointed by the returns he was getting on tobacco, Washington experimented with different cereal grains and then selected wheat as his major cash crop.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans urges all Americans to “Consume 3 or more ounce-equivalents of whole grain products, per day with the rest of the recommended grains coming from enriched or whole-grain products. In general, at least half of the grains should come from whole grains.” Unfortunately, as was noted recently by Dr. Joanne Slavin on behalf of the Grain Chain, only 12% of grain consumption is currently in the form of whole grains. So, we have a ways to go in this area.
Marshall Matz, was formerly Counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and founded the World Food Program---USA. Matz specializes in food and agriculture at OFW Law. firstname.lastname@example.org Molly O’Connor is a Government Affairs Advisor at OFW Law.