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Scientific classification OOjs UI icon edit-ltr.svg
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Subfamily: Pooideae
Tribe: Triticeae
Genus: Triticum
L. [1]
Type species
Triticum aestivum
Species [2]

Wheat is a grass widely cultivated for its seed, a cereal grain that is a worldwide staple food. The many species of wheat together make up the genus Triticum ( /ˈtrɪtɪkəm/ ); [3] the most widely grown is common wheat (T. aestivum). The archaeological record suggests that wheat was first cultivated in the regions of the Fertile Crescent around 9600 BC. Botanically, the wheat kernel is a caryopsis, a type of fruit.


Wheat is grown on more land area than any other food crop (220.7 million hectares or 545 million acres, 2021). World trade in wheat is greater than for all other crops combined. In 2021, world wheat production was 771 million tonnes (850 million short tons), making it the second most-produced cereal after maize (known as corn in the US and Australia; wheat is often called corn in other countries). Since 1960, world production of wheat and other grain crops has tripled and is expected to grow further through the middle of the 21st century. Global demand for wheat is increasing because of the usefulness of gluten to the food industry.

Wheat is an important source of carbohydrates. Globally, it is the leading source of vegetable proteins in human food, having a protein content of about 13%, which is relatively high compared to other major cereals but relatively low in protein quality (supplying essential amino acids). When eaten as the whole grain, wheat is a source of multiple nutrients and dietary fiber. In a small part of the general population, gluten – which comprises most of the protein in wheat – can trigger coeliac disease, noncoeliac gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia, and dermatitis herpetiformis.



Wheat origins by repeated hybridization and polyploidy. Not all species are shown. Polyploid wheat origins.svg
Wheat origins by repeated hybridization and polyploidy. Not all species are shown.

Some wheat species are diploid, with two sets of chromosomes, but many are stable polyploids, with four sets of chromosomes (tetraploid) or six (hexaploid). [4] Einkorn wheat (T. monococcum) is diploid (AA, two complements of seven chromosomes, 2n=14). [5] Most tetraploid wheats (e.g. emmer and durum wheat) are derived from wild emmer, T. dicoccoides. Wild emmer is itself the result of a hybridization between two diploid wild grasses, T. urartu and a wild goatgrass such as Ae. speltoides . [6] The hybridization that formed wild emmer (AABB) occurred in the wild, long before domestication, and was driven by natural selection. Hexaploid wheats evolved in farmers' fields as wild emmer hybridized with another goatgrass, Ae. squarrosa or Ae. tauschii , to make the hexaploid wheats including bread wheat. [4] [7]

A 2007 molecular phylogeny of the wheats gives the following not fully-resolved cladogram of major cultivated species; the large amount of hybridisation makes resolution difficult. Markings like "6N" indicate the degree of polyploidy of each species: [4]


Barley 2N, rye 2N/4N, and other cereals


Triticum monococcum (einkorn) 2N

× Aegilotriticum hybrids ( Aegilops x Triticum) 6N

Triticum timopheevii (zanduri wheat) and others 4N

Triticum aestivum (common or bread wheat) 6N

Triticum durum/turgidum (durum wheat) 4N

Triticum spelta (spelt) 6N

Triticum turanicum (khorasan wheat) 4N

Triticum dicoccum (emmer) 4N

many other species


Major species

Hexaploid species (6N)

  • Common wheat or bread wheat (T. aestivum) – The most widely cultivated species in the world. [8]
  • Spelt (T. spelta) – Another species largely replaced by bread wheat, but in the 21st century grown, often organically, for artisanal bread and pasta. [9]

Tetraploid species (4N)

  • Durum (T. durum) – A wheat widely used today, and the second most widely cultivated wheat. [8]
  • Emmer (T. turgidum subsp. dicoccum and T. t. conv. durum) – A species cultivated in ancient times, derived from wild emmer, T. dicoccoides, but no longer in widespread use. [10]
  • Khorasan or Kamut (T. turgidum ssp. turanicum, also called T. turanicum) is an ancient grain type; Khorasan is a historical region in modern-day Afghanistan and the northeast of Iran. The grain is twice the size of modern wheat and has a rich nutty flavor. [11]

Diploid species (2N)

  • Einkorn (T. monococcum). Domesticated from wild einkorn, T. boeoticum, at the same time as emmer wheat. [12]

Hulled versus free-threshing species

Hulled wheat & Einkorn. Note how the einkorn ear breaks down into intact spikelets. Naked and hulled wheat.jpg
Hulled wheat & Einkorn. Note how the einkorn ear breaks down into intact spikelets.

The four wild species of wheat, along with the domesticated varieties einkorn, [13] emmer [14] and spelt, [15] have hulls. This more primitive morphology (in evolutionary terms) consists of toughened glumes that tightly enclose the grains, and (in domesticated wheats) a semi-brittle rachis that breaks easily on threshing. The result is that when threshed, the wheat ear breaks up into spikelets. To obtain the grain, further processing, such as milling or pounding, is needed to remove the hulls or husks. Hulled wheats are often stored as spikelets because the toughened glumes give good protection against pests of stored grain. [13] In free-threshing (or naked) forms, such as durum wheat and common wheat, the glumes are fragile and the rachis tough. On threshing, the chaff breaks up, releasing the grains. [16]


Origin and 21st century production area of wheat Wheatareal.PNG
Origin and 21st century production area of wheat


Hunter-gatherers in West Asia harvested wild wheats for thousands of years before they were domesticated, [17] perhaps as early as 21,000 BC, [18] but they formed a minor component of their diets. [19] This phase of pre-domestication cultivation lasted at least a thousand years, during which early cultivars were spread around the region and slowly developed the traits that would come to characterise their domesticated forms. [20]

Repeated harvesting and sowing of the grains of wild grasses led to the creation of domestic strains, as mutant forms ('sports') of wheat were more amenable to cultivation. In domesticated wheat, grains are larger, and the seeds (inside the spikelets) remain attached to the ear by a toughened rachis during harvesting. [21] In wild strains, a more fragile rachis allows the ear to shatter easily, dispersing the spikelets. [22] Selection for larger grains and non-shattering heads by farmers might not have been deliberately intended, but simply have occurred because these traits made gathering the seeds easier; nevertheless such 'incidental' selection was an important part of crop domestication. As the traits that improve wheat as a food source also involve the loss of the plant's natural seed dispersal mechanisms, highly domesticated strains of wheat cannot survive in the wild. [23]

Wild einkorn wheat (T. monococcum subsp. boeoticum) grows across Southwest Asia in open parkland and steppe environments. [24] It comprises three distinct races, only one of which, native to Southeast Anatolia, was domesticated. [25] The main feature that distinguishes domestic einkorn from wild is that its ears do not shatter without pressure, making it dependent on humans for dispersal and reproduction. [24] It also tends to have wider grains. [24] Wild einkorn was collected at sites such as Tell Abu Hureyra (c.10,700–9000 BC) and Mureybet (c.9800–9300 BC), but the earliest archaeological evidence for the domestic form comes after c. 8800 BC in southern Turkey, at Çayönü, Cafer Höyük, and possibly Nevalı Çori. [24] Genetic evidence indicates that it was domesticated in multiple places independently. [25]

Wild emmer wheat (T. turgidum subsp. dicoccoides) is less widespread than einkorn, favouring the rocky basaltic and limestone soils found in the hilly flanks of the Fertile Crescent. [24] It is more diverse, with domesticated varieties falling into two major groups: hulled or non-shattering, in which threshing separates the whole spikelet; and free-threshing, where the individual grains are separated. Both varieties probably existed in prehistory, but over time free-threshing cultivars became more common. [24] Wild emmer was first cultivated in the southern Levant, as early as 9600 BC. [26] [27] Genetic studies have found that, like einkorn, it was domesticated in southeastern Anatolia, but only once. [25] [28] The earliest secure archaeological evidence for domestic emmer comes from Çayönü, c.8300–7600 BC, where distinctive scars on the spikelets indicated that they came from a hulled domestic variety. [24] Slightly earlier finds have been reported from Tell Aswad in Syria, c.8500–8200 BC, but these were identified using a less reliable method based on grain size. [24]

Early farming

Sickles with stone microblades were used to harvest wheat in the Neolithic period, c. 8500-4000 BC NHM - Jungsteinzeit Sichel 2.jpg
Sickles with stone microblades were used to harvest wheat in the Neolithic period, c.8500–4000 BC

Einkorn and emmer are considered two of the founder crops cultivated by the first farming societies in Neolithic West Asia. [24] These communities also cultivated naked wheats (T. aestivum and T. durum) and a now-extinct domesticated form of Zanduri wheat (T. timopheevii), [29] as well as a wide variety of other cereal and non-cereal crops. [30] Wheat was relatively uncommon for the first thousand years of the Neolithic (when barley predominated), but became a staple after around 8500 BC. [30] Early wheat cultivation did not demand much labour. Initially, farmers took advantage of wheat's ability to establish itself in annual grasslands by enclosing fields against grazing animals and re-sowing stands after they had been harvested, without the need to systematically remove vegetation or till the soil. [31] They may also have exploited natural wetlands and floodplains to practice décrue farming, sowing seeds in the soil left behind by receding floodwater. [32] [33] [34] It was harvested with stone-bladed sickles. [35] The ease of storing wheat and other cereals led farming households to become gradually more reliant on it over time, especially after they developed individual storage facilities that were large enough to hold more than a year's supply. [36]

Wheat grain was stored after threshing, with the chaff removed. [36] It was then processed into flour using ground stone mortars. [37] Bread made from ground einkorn and the tubers of a form of club rush (Bolboschoenus glaucus) was made as early as 12,400 BC. [38] At Çatalhöyük (c.7100–6000 BC), both wholegrain wheat and flour was used to prepare bread, porridge and gruel. [39] [40] Apart from food, wheat may also have been important to Neolithic societies as a source of straw, which could be used for fuel, wicker-making, or wattle and daub construction. [41]


Domestic wheat was quickly spread to regions where its wild ancestors did not grow naturally. Emmer was introduced to Cyprus as early as 8600 BC and einkorn c.7500 BC; [42] [43] emmer reached Greece by 6500 BC, Egypt shortly after 6000 BC, and Germany and Spain by 5000 BC. [44] "The early Egyptians were developers of bread and the use of the oven and developed baking into one of the first large-scale food production industries." [45] By 4000 BC, wheat had reached the British Isles and Scandinavia. [46] [47] [48] Wheat likely appeared in China's lower Yellow River around 2600 BC. [49]

The oldest evidence for hexaploid wheat has been confirmed through DNA analysis of wheat seeds, dating to around 6400–6200 BC, recovered from Çatalhöyük. [50] As of 2023, the earliest known wheat with sufficient gluten for yeasted breads was found in a granary at Assiros in Macedonia dated to 1350 BC. [51] From the Middle East, wheat continued to spread across Europe and to the Americas in the Columbian exchange. In the British Isles, wheat straw (thatch) was used for roofing in the Bronze Age, and remained in common use until the late 19th century. [52] [53] White wheat bread was historically a high status food, but during the nineteenth century it became in Britain an item of mass consumption, displacing oats, barley and rye from diets in the North of the country. It became "a sign of a high degree of culture". [54] After 1860, the enormous expansion of wheat production in the United States flooded the world market, lowering prices by 40%, and (along with the expansion of potato growing) made a major contribution to the nutritional welfare of the poor. [55]

As a food

Naming of grain classes

Wheat grain classes are named by color, season, and hardness. [56] The classes used in the United States are: [57] [58]

Food value and uses

Wheat is used in a wide variety of foods. USDA wheat.jpg
Wheat is used in a wide variety of foods.
Wheat, hard red winter
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,368 kJ (327 kcal)
71.18 g
Sugars 0.41
Dietary fiber 12.2 g
1.54 g
12.61 g
Vitamins Quantity
Thiamine (B1)
0.383 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.115 mg
Niacin (B3)
5.464 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
0.954 mg
Vitamin B6
0.3 mg
Folate (B9)
38 μg
31.2 mg
Vitamin E
1.01 mg
Vitamin K
1.9 μg
Minerals Quantity
29 mg
3.19 mg
126 mg
3.985 mg
288 mg
363 mg
2 mg
2.65 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water13.1 g
Selenium70.7 µg

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA FoodData Central

Wheat is a staple cereal worldwide. [61] [5] Raw wheat can be ground into flour or, using hard durum wheat only, can be ground into semolina; germinated and dried creating malt; crushed or cut into cracked wheat; parboiled (or steamed), dried, crushed and de-branned into bulgur also known as groats. [62] If the raw wheat is broken into parts at the mill, as is usually done, the outer husk or bran can be used in several ways. Wheat is a major ingredient in such foods as bread, porridge, crackers, biscuits, muesli, pancakes, pasta, pies, pastries, pizza, semolina, cakes, cookies, muffins, rolls, doughnuts, gravy, beer, vodka, boza (a fermented beverage), and breakfast cereals. [63] In manufacturing wheat products, gluten is valuable to impart viscoelastic functional qualities in dough, [64] enabling the preparation of diverse processed foods such as breads, noodles, and pasta that facilitate wheat consumption. [65] [66] In 100 grams, wheat provides 1,368 kilojoules (327 kilocalories) of food energy and is a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of multiple essential nutrients, such as protein, dietary fiber, manganese, phosphorus and niacin (table). Several B vitamins and other dietary minerals are in significant content. Wheat is 13% water, 71% carbohydrates, and 1.5% fat. Its 13% protein content is mostly gluten (75–80% of the protein in wheat). [64] 100 g (3+12 oz) of hard red winter wheat contain about 12.6 g of protein, 1.5 g of total fat, 71 g of carbohydrate (by difference), 12.2 g of dietary fiber, and 3.2 mg of iron (17% of the daily requirement); the same weight of hard red spring wheat contains about 15.4 g of protein, 1.9 g of total fat, 68 g of carbohydrate (by difference), 12.2 g of dietary fiber, and 3.6 mg of iron (20% of the daily requirement). [67]

Wheat is the leading source of vegetable proteins in human food, having a protein content of about 13%, which is relatively high compared to other major cereals. [68] However, wheat proteins have a low quality for human nutrition, according to the new protein quality method (DIAAS) promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization. [69] [70] Though they contain adequate amounts of the other essential amino acids, at least for adults, wheat proteins are deficient in the essential amino acid lysine. [66] [71] Because the proteins present in the wheat endosperm (gluten proteins) are particularly poor in lysine, white flours are more deficient in lysine compared with whole grains. [66] Significant efforts in plant breeding are being made to develop lysine-rich wheat varieties, without success as of 2017. [72] Supplementation with proteins from other food sources (mainly legumes) is commonly used to compensate for this deficiency, [73] since the limitation of a single essential amino acid causes the others to break down and become excreted, which is especially important during the period of growth. [66]

Health effects

Consumed worldwide by billions of people, wheat is a significant food for human nutrition, particularly in the least developed countries where wheat products are primary foods. [74] [66] When eaten as the whole grain, wheat is a healthy food source of multiple nutrients and dietary fiber recommended for children and adults, in several daily servings containing a variety of foods that meet whole grain-rich criteria. [66] [65] [75] [76] Dietary fiber may also help people feel full and therefore help with a healthy weight. [77] Further, wheat is a major source for natural and biofortified nutrient supplementation, including dietary fiber, protein and dietary minerals. [78]

Manufacturers of foods containing wheat as a whole grain in specified amounts are allowed a health claim for marketing purposes in the United States, stating: "low fat diets rich in fiber-containing grain products, fruits, and vegetables may reduce the risk of some types of cancer, a disease associated with many factors" and "diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol and rich in fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain some types of dietary fiber, particularly soluble fiber, may reduce the risk of heart disease, a disease associated with many factors". [79] [80] The scientific opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) related to health claims on gut health/bowel function, weight control, blood glucose/insulin levels, weight management, blood cholesterol, satiety, glycaemic index, digestive function and cardiovascular health is "that the food constituent, whole grain, (...) is not sufficiently characterised in relation to the claimed health effects" and "that a cause and effect relationship cannot be established between the consumption of whole grain and the claimed effects considered in this opinion." [65] [81]

In genetically susceptible people, gluten – a major part of wheat protein – can trigger coeliac disease. [64] [82] Coeliac disease affects about 1% of the general population in developed countries. [83] [82] There is evidence that most cases remain undiagnosed and untreated. [82] The only known effective treatment is a strict lifelong gluten-free diet. [82]

While coeliac disease is caused by a reaction to wheat proteins, it is not the same as a wheat allergy. [83] [82] Other diseases triggered by eating wheat are non-coeliac gluten sensitivity [83] [84] (estimated to affect 0.5% to 13% of the general population [85] ), gluten ataxia, and dermatitis herpetiformis. [84]

Certain short-chain carbohydrates present in wheat, known as FODMAPs (mainly frutose polymers), may be the cause of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. As of 2019, reviews have concluded that FODMAPs only explain certain gastrointestinal symptoms, such as bloating, but not the extra-digestive symptoms that people with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity may develop, such as neurological disorders, fibromyalgia, psychological disturbances, and dermatitis. [86] [87] [88]

Other proteins present in wheat, amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs), have been identified as the possible activator of the innate immune system in coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. [88] [87] ATIs are part of the plant's natural defense against insects and may cause toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4)-mediated intestinal inflammation in humans. [87] [89] [90] These TLR4-stimulating activities of ATIs are limited to gluten-containing cereals. [88] A 2017 study in mice demonstrated that ATIs exacerbate preexisting inflammation and might also worsen it at extraintestinal sites. This may explain why there is an increase of inflammation in people with preexisting diseases upon ingestion of ATIs-containing grains. [87]

Production and consumption


Wheat production, 2021
CountryMillions of tonnes
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China 136.9
Flag of India.svg  India 109.6
Flag of Russia.svg  Russia 78.1
Flag of the United States.svg  United States 44.8
Flag of France.svg  France 36.6
Flag of Ukraine.svg  Ukraine 32.2
Flag of Pakistan.svg  Pakistan 27.5
Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization [91]

In 2021, world wheat production was 771 million tonnes, led by China, India, and Russia which collectively provided 42% of the world total. [91] As of 2019, the largest exporters were Russia (32 million tonnes), United States (27), Canada (23) and France (20), while the largest importers were Indonesia (11 million tonnes), Egypt (10.4) and Turkey (10.0). [93] In 2021, wheat was grown on 220.7 million hectares or 545 million acres worldwide, more than any other food crop. [94] World trade in wheat is greater than for all other crops combined. [95] Global demand for wheat is increasing due to the unique viscoelastic and adhesive properties of gluten proteins, which facilitate the production of processed foods, whose consumption is increasing as a result of the worldwide industrialization process and westernization of diets. [66] [96]

Historical factors

Wheat prices in England, 1264-1996 Wheat prices in England, OWID.svg
Wheat prices in England, 1264–1996

Wheat became a central agriculture endeavor in the worldwide British Empire in the 19th century, and remains of great importance in Australia, Canada and India. [98] In Australia, with vast lands and a limited work force, expanded production depended on technological advances, especially regarding irrigation and machinery. By the 1840s there were 900 growers in South Australia. They used the "Ridley's Stripper", to remove the heads of grain, and the reaper-harvester perfected by John Ridley in 1843. [99] By 1850 South Australia had become the granary for the region; soon wheat farming spread to Victoria and New South Wales, with heavy exports to Great Britain. In Canada modern farm implements made large scale wheat farming possible from the late 1840s on. By the 1879s Saskatchewan was the center, followed by Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, as the spread of railway lines allowed easy exports to Britain. By 1910 wheat made up 22% of Canada's exports, rising to 25% in 1930 despite the sharp decline in prices during the worldwide Great Depression. [100] Efforts to expand wheat production in South Africa, Kenya and India were stymied by low yields and disease. However, by 2000 India had become the second largest producer of wheat in the world. [101] In the 19th century the American wheat frontier moved rapidly westward. By the 1880s 70% of American exports went to British ports. The first successful grain elevator was built in Buffalo in 1842. [102] The cost of transport fell rapidly. In 1869 it cost 37 cents to transport a bushel of wheat from Chicago to Liverpool. In 1905 it was 10 cents. [103]

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 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. [104] 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.

In the 21st century, several factors are slowing the rate of global expansion of wheat production: population growth rates are falling while wheat yields continue to rise. There is evidence, however, that rising temperatures associated with climate change are reducing wheat yield in several locations. [105] In addition, 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.

Farming systems

In 2014, the most productive crop yields for wheat were in Ireland, producing 10 tonnes per hectare. [106] In addition to gaps in farming system technology and knowledge, some large wheat grain-producing countries have significant losses after harvest at the farm and because of poor roads, inadequate storage technologies, inefficient supply chains and farmers' inability to bring the produce into retail markets dominated by small shopkeepers. Various studies in India, for example, have concluded that about 10% of total wheat production is lost at farm level, another 10% is lost because of poor storage and road networks, and additional amounts lost at the retail level. [107]

In the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent, as well as 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. [108] 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 a canola crop in the rotations has boosted wheat yields by a further 25%. [109] 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. [110]

Geographical variation

There are substantial differences in wheat farming, trading, policy, sector growth, and wheat uses in different regions of the world. The largest exporters of wheat in 2016 were, in order of exported quantities: Russian Federation (25.3 million tonnes), United States (24.0 million tonnes), Canada (19.7 million tonnes), France (18.3 million tonnes), and Australia (16.1 million tonnes). [111] The largest importers of wheat in 2016 were, in order of imported quantities: Indonesia (10.5 million tonnes), Egypt (8.7 million tonnes), Algeria (8.2 million tonnes), Italy (7.7 million tonnes) and Spain (7.0 million tonnes). [111] In the rapidly developing countries of Asia and Africa, 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. [108] The average annual world farm yield for wheat in 2014 was 3.3 tonnes per hectare (330 grams per square meter). [106] Ireland's wheat farms were the most productive in 2014, with a nationwide average of 10.0 tonnes per hectare, followed by the Netherlands (9.2), and Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom (each with 8.6). [106]

Peak wheat

Food production per person increased since 1961. Food production per capita.svg
Food production per person increased since 1961.

Peak wheat is the concept that agricultural production, due to its high use of water and energy inputs, [112] is subject to the same profile as oil and other fossil fuel production. [113] [114] [115] The central tenet is that a point is reached, the "peak", beyond which agricultural production plateaus and does not grow any further, [116] and may even go into permanent decline.

Based on current supply and demand factors for agricultural commodities (e.g., changing diets in the emerging economies, biofuels, declining acreage under irrigation, growing global population, stagnant agricultural productivity growth), [117] some commentators are predicting a long-term annual production shortfall of around 2% which, based on the highly inelastic demand curve for food crops, could lead to sustained price increases in excess of 10% a year – sufficient to double crop prices in seven years. [118] [119] [120]

According to the World Resources Institute, global per capita food production has been increasing substantially for the past several decades. [121]



A: Plant; B ripe ear of corn; 1 spikelet before flowering; 2 the same, flowering and spread, enlarged; 3 flowers with glumes; 4 stamens 5 pollen; 6 and 7 ovaries with juice scales; 8 and 9 parts of the scar; 10 fruit husks; 11, 12, 13 seeds, natural size and enlarged; 14 the same cut up, enlarged. Triticum aestivum - Kohler-s Medizinal-Pflanzen-274.jpg
A: Plant; B ripe ear of corn; 1 spikelet before flowering; 2 the same, flowering and spread, enlarged; 3 flowers with glumes; 4 stamens 5 pollen; 6 and 7 ovaries with juice scales; 8 and 9 parts of the scar; 10 fruit husks; 11, 12, 13 seeds, natural size and enlarged; 14 the same cut up, enlarged.

Leaves emerge from the shoot apical meristem in a telescoping fashion until the transition to reproduction i.e. flowering. [122] The last leaf produced by a wheat plant is known as the flag leaf. It is denser and has a higher photosynthetic rate than other leaves, to supply carbohydrate to the developing ear. In temperate countries the flag leaf, along with the second and third highest leaf on the plant, supply the majority of carbohydrate in the grain and their condition is paramount to yield formation. [123] [124] Wheat is unusual among plants in having more stomata on the upper (adaxial) side of the leaf, than on the under (abaxial) side. [125] It has been theorised that this might be an effect of it having been domesticated and cultivated longer than any other plant. [126] Winter wheat generally produces up to 15 leaves per shoot and spring wheat up to 9 [127] and winter crops may have up to 35 tillers (shoots) per plant (depending on cultivar). [127]

Wheat roots are among the deepest of arable crops, extending as far down as 2 metres (6 ft 7 in). [128] While the roots of a wheat plant are growing, the plant also accumulates an energy store in its stem, in the form of fructans, [129] which helps the plant to yield under drought and disease pressure, [130] but it has been observed that there is a trade-off between root growth and stem non-structural carbohydrate reserves. Root growth is likely to be prioritised in drought-adapted crops, while stem non-structural carbohydrate is prioritised in varieties developed for countries where disease is a bigger issue. [131]

Depending on variety, wheat may be awned or not awned. Producing awns incurs a cost in grain number, [132] but wheat awns photosynthesise more efficiently than their leaves with regards to water usage, [133] so awns are much more frequent in varieties of wheat grown in hot drought-prone countries than those generally seen in temperate countries. For this reason, awned varieties could become more widely grown due to climate change. In Europe, however, a decline in climate resilience of wheat has been observed. [134]

Crop development

Wheat normally needs between 110 and 130 days between sowing 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, and 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. Farmers 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. [135] For example, the stage of 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. [136]

Farming techniques

Technological advances in soil preparation and seed placement at planting time, use of crop rotation and fertilizers to improve plant growth, and advances in harvesting methods have all combined to promote wheat as a viable crop. When the use of seed drills replaced broadcasting sowing of seed in the 18th century, another great increase in productivity occurred. Yields of pure wheat per unit area increased as methods of crop rotation were applied to land that had long been in cultivation, and the use of fertilizers became widespread. [137]

Improved agricultural husbandry has more recently included pervasive automation, starting with the use of threshing machines, [138] and progressing to large and costly machines like the combine harvester which greatly increased productivity. [139] At the same time, better varieties such as Norin 10 wheat, developed in Japan in the 1930s, [140] or the dwarf wheat developed in the Green Revolution, greatly increased yields. [141] [142]

Pests and diseases

Pests [143] – or pests and diseases, depending on the definition – consume 21.47% of the world's wheat crop annually. [144]


Rust-affected wheat seedlings CSIRO ScienceImage 10772 Rustaffected wheat seedlings.jpg
Rust-affected wheat seedlings

There are many wheat diseases, mainly caused by fungi, bacteria, and viruses. [145] 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 and 25% in Missouri. [146] A wide range of organisms infect wheat, of which the most important are viruses and fungi. [147]

The main wheat-disease categories are:

Animal pests

Pupa of the wheat weevil, Sitophilus granarius, inside a wheat kernel Pupa of Sitophilus granarius (L.) inside a wheat kernel (cropped).jpg
Pupa of the wheat weevil, Sitophilus granarius , inside a wheat kernel

Wheat is the food plant of 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, many species of birds and rodents feed upon wheat crops. These animals can 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 United States alone, and damage to wheat by various borers, beetles and weevils is no exception. [152] 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. [153] 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 30,000 good ones. [154]

Breeding objectives

In traditional agricultural systems, wheat populations consist of landraces, informal farmer-maintained populations that often maintain high levels of morphological diversity. Although landraces of wheat are no longer extensively grown in Europe and North America, they continue to be important elsewhere. The origins of formal wheat breeding lie in the nineteenth century, when single line varieties were created through selection of seed from a single plant noted to have desired properties. Modern wheat breeding developed in the first years of the twentieth century and was closely linked to the development of Mendelian genetics. The standard method of breeding inbred wheat cultivars is by crossing two lines using hand emasculation, then selfing or inbreeding the progeny. Selections are identified (shown to have the genes responsible for the varietal differences) ten or more generations before release as a variety or cultivar. [155]

Major breeding objectives include high grain yield, good quality, disease- and insect resistance and tolerance to abiotic stresses, including mineral, moisture and heat tolerance. Wheat has been the subject of mutation breeding, with the use of gamma-, x-rays, ultraviolet light (collectively, radiation breeding), and sometimes harsh chemicals. The varieties of wheat created through these methods are in the hundreds (going as far back as 1960), more of them being created in higher populated countries such as China. [156] Bread wheat with high grain iron and zinc content has been developed through gamma radiation breeding, [157] and through conventional selection breeding. [158] International wheat breeding is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico. ICARDA is another major public sector international wheat breeder, but it was forced to relocate from Syria to Lebanon in the Syrian Civil War. [159]

Pathogens and wheat are in a constant process of coevolution. [160] Spore-producing wheat rusts are substantially adapted towards successful spore propagation, which is essentially to say its R0. [160] These pathogens tend towards high-R0 evolutionary attractors. [160]

For higher yields

Breeding has increased yields over time Long-term wheat yields in Europe, OWID.svg
Breeding has increased yields over time

The presence of certain versions of wheat genes has been important for crop yields. Genes for the 'dwarfing' trait, first used by Japanese wheat breeders to produce Norin 10 short-stalked wheat, have had a huge effect on wheat yields worldwide, and were major factors in the success of the Green Revolution in Mexico and Asia, an initiative led by Norman Borlaug. [161] Dwarfing genes enable the carbon that is fixed in the plant during photosynthesis to be diverted towards seed production, and they also help prevent the problem of lodging. [162] "Lodging" occurs when an ear stalk falls over in the wind and rots on the ground, and heavy nitrogenous fertilization of wheat makes the grass grow taller and become more susceptible to this problem. [163] By 1997, 81% of the developing world's wheat area was planted to semi-dwarf wheats, giving both increased yields and better response to nitrogenous fertilizer. [164]

T. turgidum subsp. polonicum, known for its longer glumes and grains, has been bred into main wheat lines for its grain size effect, and likely has contributed these traits to Triticum petropavlovskyi and the Portuguese landrace group Arrancada. [165] [166] As with many plants, MADS-box influences flower development, and more specifically, as with other agricultural Poaceae, influences yield. Despite that importance, as of 2021 little research has been done into MADS-box and other such spikelet and flower genetics in wheat specifically. [165]

The world record wheat yield is about 17 tonnes per hectare (15,000 pounds per acre), reached in New Zealand in 2017. [167] A project in the UK, led by Rothamsted Research has aimed to raise wheat yields in the country to 20 t/ha (18,000 lb/acre) by 2020, but in 2018 the UK record stood at 16 t/ha (14,000 lb/acre), and the average yield was just 8 t/ha (7,100 lb/acre). [168] [169]

For disease resistance

Different strains have been infected with the stem rust fungus. The strains bred to be resistant have their leaves unaffected or relatively unaffected by the fungus. Stem rust on differential lines wheat.jpg
Different strains have been infected with the stem rust fungus. The strains bred to be resistant have their leaves unaffected or relatively unaffected by the fungus.

Wild grasses in the genus Triticum and related genera, and grasses such as rye have been a source of many disease-resistance traits for cultivated wheat breeding since the 1930s. [170] Some resistance genes have been identified against Pyrenophora tritici-repentis , especially races 1 and 5, those most problematic in Kazakhstan. [171] Wild relative, Aegilops tauschii is the source of several genes effective against TTKSK/Ug99 - Sr33 , Sr45, Sr46, and SrTA1662 - of which Sr33 and SrTA1662 are the work of Olson et al., 2013, and Sr45 and Sr46 are also briefly reviewed therein. [172]

Resistance to Fusarium head blight (FHB, Fusarium ear blight) is also an important breeding target. Marker-assisted breeding panels involving kompetitive allele specific PCR can be used. Singh et al. 2019 identify a KASP genetic marker for a pore-forming toxin-like gene providing FHB resistance. [177]

To create hybrid vigor

Because wheat self-pollinates, creating hybrid seed to provide the possible benefits of heterosis, hybrid vigor (as in the familiar F1 hybrids of maize), is extremely labor-intensive; the high cost of hybrid wheat seed relative to its moderate benefits have kept farmers from adopting them widely [178] [179] despite nearly 90 years of effort. [180] [155] Commercial hybrid wheat seed has been produced using chemical hybridizing agents, plant growth regulators that selectively interfere with pollen development, or naturally occurring cytoplasmic male sterility systems. Hybrid wheat has been a limited commercial success in Europe (particularly France), the United States and South Africa. [181]

Synthetic hexaploids made by crossing the wild goatgrass wheat ancestor Aegilops tauschii , [182] and other Aegilops , [183] and various durum wheats are now being deployed, and these increase the genetic diversity of cultivated wheats. [184] [185] [186]

For gluten content

Modern bread wheat varieties have been cross-bred to contain greater amounts of gluten, [187] which affords significant advantages for improving the quality of breads and pastas from a functional point of view. [188] However, a 2020 study that grew and analyzed 60 wheat cultivars from between 1891 and 2010 found no changes in albumin/globulin and gluten contents over time. "Overall, the harvest year had a more significant effect on protein composition than the cultivar. At the protein level, we found no evidence to support an increased immunostimulatory potential of modern winter wheat." [189]

For water efficiency

Stomata (or leaf pores) are involved in both uptake of carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere and water vapor losses from the leaf due to water transpiration. Basic physiological investigation of these gas exchange processes has yielded carbon isotope based method used for breeding wheat varieties with improved water-use efficiency. These varieties can improve crop productivity in rain-fed dry-land wheat farms. [190]

For insect resistance

The gene Sm1 protects against the orange wheat blossom midge. [191] [192] [193] [194]


Decoding the genome

In 2010, 95% of the genome of Chinese Spring line 42 wheat was decoded. [195] This genome was released in a basic format for scientists and plant breeders to use but was not fully annotated. [196] In 2012, an essentially complete gene set of bread wheat was published. [197] Random shotgun libraries of total DNA and cDNA from the T. aestivum cv. Chinese Spring (CS42) were sequenced to generate 85 Gb of sequence (220 million reads) and identified between 94,000 and 96,000 genes. [197] In 2018, a more complete Chinese Spring genome was released by a different team. [198] In 2020, 15 genome sequences from various locations and varieties around the world were reported, with examples of their own use of the sequences to localize particular insect and disease resistance factors. [193] Wheat Blast Resistance is controlled by R genes which are highly race-specific. [151]

Genetic engineering

For decades, the primary genetic modification technique has been non-homologous end joining (NHEJ). However, since its introduction, the CRISPR/Cas9 tool has been extensively adopted, for example:

As of 2021 these examples illustrate the rapid deployment and results that CRISPR/Cas9 has shown in wheat disease resistance improvement. [199]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cereal</span> Grass that has edible grain or fruit

A cereal is any grass cultivated for its edible grain, which is composed of an endosperm, a germ, and a bran. Cereal grain crops are grown in greater quantities and provide more food energy worldwide than any other type of crop and are therefore staple crops. They include rice, wheat, rye, oats, barley, millet, and maize. Edible grains from other plant families, such as buckwheat, quinoa, and chia, are referred to as pseudocereals.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gluten</span> Group of cereal grain proteins

Gluten is a structural protein naturally found in certain cereal grains. The term "gluten" usually refers to the combination of prolamin and glutelin proteins that naturally occurs in many cereal grains and that can trigger celiac disease. The types of grains that contain gluten include all species of wheat, as well as barley, rye, and some cultivars of oat. Cross hybrids of any of these grains also contain gluten. Gluten makes up 75–85% of the total protein in bread wheat.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Millet</span> Group of grasses (food grain)

Millets are a highly varied group of small-seeded grasses, widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for fodder and human food. Most species generally referred to as millets belong to the tribe Paniceae, but some millets also belong to various other taxa.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oat</span> Cool weather staple grain, animal feed

The oat, sometimes called the common oat, is a species of cereal grain grown for its seed, which is known by the same name. Oats are used for human consumption as oatmeal and rolled oats. Oats are a nutrient-rich food associated with lower blood cholesterol and reduced risk of human heart disease when consumed regularly. One of the most common uses of oats is as livestock feed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rye</span> Species of grain

Rye is a grass grown extensively as a grain, a cover crop and a forage crop. It is a member of the wheat tribe (Triticeae) and is closely related to both wheat and barley. Rye grain is used for flour, bread, beer, crispbread, some whiskeys, some vodkas, and animal fodder. It can also be eaten whole, either as boiled rye berries or by being rolled, similar to rolled oats.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Einkorn wheat</span> Primitive wheat

Einkorn wheat can refer either to a wild species of wheat (Triticum) or to its domesticated form. The wild form is T. boeoticum, and the domesticated form is T. monococcum. Einkorn is a diploid species of hulled wheat, with tough glumes ('husks') that tightly enclose the grains. The cultivated form is similar to the wild, except that the ear stays intact when ripe and the seeds are larger. The domestic form is known as "petit épeautre" in French, "Einkorn" in German, "einkorn" or "littlespelt" in English, "piccolo farro" in Italian and "escanda menor" in Spanish. The name refers to the fact that each spikelet contains only one grain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Triticale</span> Hybrid wheat/rye crop

Triticale is a hybrid of wheat (Triticum) and rye (Secale) first bred in laboratories during the late 19th century in Scotland and Germany. Commercially available triticale is almost always a second-generation hybrid, i.e., a cross between two kinds of primary (first-cross) triticales. As a rule, triticale combines the yield potential and grain quality of wheat with the disease and environmental tolerance of rye. Only recently has it been developed into a commercially viable crop. Depending on the cultivar, triticale can more or less resemble either of its parents. It is grown mostly for forage or fodder, although some triticale-based foods can be purchased at health food stores and can be found in some breakfast cereals.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Emmer</span> Type of wheat

Emmer wheat or hulled wheat is a type of awned wheat. Emmer is a tetraploid. The domesticated types are Triticum turgidum subsp. dicoccum and T. t. conv. durum. The wild plant is called T. t. subsp. dicoccoides. The principal difference between the wild and the domestic forms is that the ripened seed head of the wild plant shatters and scatters the seed onto the ground, while in the domesticated emmer, the seed head remains intact, thus making it easier for humans to harvest the grain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Domestication</span> Selective breeding of plants and animals to serve humans

Domestication is a multi-generational mutualistic relationship between humans and other organisms, in which humans take over control and care to obtain a steady supply of resources including food. The process was gradual and geographically diffuse, based on trial and error.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Durum</span> Species of wheat used for food

Durum wheat, also called pasta wheat or macaroni wheat, is a tetraploid species of wheat. It is the second most cultivated species of wheat after common wheat, although it represents only 5% to 8% of global wheat production. It was developed by artificial selection of the domesticated emmer wheat strains formerly grown in Central Europe and the Near East around 7000 BC, which developed a naked, free-threshing form. Like emmer, durum wheat is awned. It is the predominant wheat that grows in the Middle East.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spelt</span> Species of grain

Spelt, also known as dinkel wheat or hulled wheat, is a species of wheat that has been cultivated since approximately 5000 BCE.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Khorasan wheat</span> Species of grass

Khorasan wheat or Oriental wheat is a tetraploid wheat species. The grain is twice the size of modern-day wheat, and has a rich, nutty flavor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Founder crops</span> Original agricultural crops

The founder crops or primary domesticates are a group of flowering plants that were domesticated by early farming communities in Southwest Asia and went on to form the basis of agricultural economies across Eurasia. As originally defined by Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, they consisted of three cereals, four pulses, and flax. Subsequent research has indicated that many other species could be considered founder crops. These species were amongst the first domesticated plants in the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Common wheat</span> Species of plant

Common wheat, also known as bread wheat, is a cultivated wheat species. About 95% of wheat produced worldwide is common wheat; it is the most widely grown of all crops and the cereal with the highest monetary yield.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taxonomy of wheat</span> Classification of wheat

During 10,000 years of cultivation, numerous forms of wheat, many of them hybrids, have developed under a combination of artificial and natural selection. This diversity has led to much confusion in the naming of wheats. Genetic and morphological characteristics of wheat influence its classification; many common and botanical names of wheat are in current use.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Triticeae</span> Tribe of grasses

Triticeae is a botanical tribe within the subfamily Pooideae of grasses that includes genera with many domesticated species. Major crop genera found in this tribe include wheat, barley, and rye; crops in other genera include some for human consumption, and others used for animal feed or rangeland protection. Among the world's cultivated species, this tribe has some of the most complex genetic histories. An example is bread wheat, which contains the genomes of three species with only one being a wheat Triticum species. Seed storage proteins in the Triticeae are implicated in various food allergies and intolerances.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Triticeae glutens</span> Seed storage protein in mature wheat seeds

Gluten is the seed storage protein in mature wheat seeds. It is the sticky substance in bread wheat which allows dough to rise and retain its shape during baking. The same, or very similar, proteins are also found in related grasses within the tribe Triticeae. Seed glutens of some non-Triticeae plants have similar properties, but none can perform on a par with those of the Triticeae taxa, particularly the Triticum species. What distinguishes bread wheat from these other grass seeds is the quantity of these proteins and the level of subcomponents, with bread wheat having the highest protein content and a complex mixture of proteins derived from three grass species.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Barley</span> Cereal grain

Barley, a member of the grass family, is a major cereal grain grown in temperate climates globally. It was one of the first cultivated grains, particularly in Eurasia as early as 10,000 years ago. Globally 70% of barley production is used as animal fodder, while 30% as a source of fermentable material for beer and certain distilled beverages, and as a component of various foods. It is used in soups and stews, and in barley bread of various cultures. Barley grains are commonly made into malt in a traditional and ancient method of preparation.

<i>Thinopyrum intermedium</i> Species of flowering plant

Thinopyrum intermedium, known commonly as intermediate wheatgrass, is a sod-forming perennial grass in the Triticeae tribe of Pooideae native to Europe and Western Asia. It is part of a group of plants commonly called wheatgrasses because of the similarity of their seed heads or ears to common wheat. However, wheatgrasses generally are perennial, while wheat is an annual. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit as an ornamental.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ancient grains</span> Small, hard, dry seeds used as food

Ancient grains is a marketing term used to describe a category of grains and pseudocereals that are purported to have been minimally changed by selective breeding over recent millennia, as opposed to more widespread cereals such as corn, rice and modern varieties of wheat, which are the product of thousands of years of selective breeding. Ancient grains are often marketed as being more nutritious than modern grains, though their health benefits over modern varieties have been disputed by some nutritionists.


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