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Wheat Farming:
A World Wide Production
Rebekah Shanahan
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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One of the two most important food grains in the world is wheat. The Great Plains area is a major wheat producer in the United States. Wheat is used in a variety of ways, and there are many different aspects to consider when dealing with this product. Many people have researched wheat diseases, wheat production, wheat in relation to cattle, and different governmental issues dealing with wheat. The purpose of this essay is to show the difficult journey wheat farmers take while planting and harvesting wheat. An educated wheat farmer knows how to keep the crop successful and the consumer happy. Being able to see the effect the wheat industry has on society gives people a new respect for wheat farmers.

Wheat is a global product and is used in a variety of ways domestically. Wheat is used on cereals, pastas, bread, pastries, cakes, biscuits, etc. Because of the wheat being grown in many countries, the trade is extensive. John Antle says that in 1990 total world wheat exports average 100 million tons per year and in 1997-98 was over 600 million tons. Production and consumption have increased in numbers at about the same rate. Production, consumption, and trade of wheat have altogether increased since the 1960s. The United States and the European Union "have much larger populations and utilize much larger proportions of their domestic wheat output for human consumption and animal feed but still export substantial amounts of wheat" (Antle 10-11). Most of the improvement of wheat production has been from improved yields. These yields are important to protect the plant from disease.

Any kind of agricultural product grown outside is prone to disease. Agriculturalists have to be aware of prevention methods and apply these methods to their product. The wheat business is so large that the production cannot afford to be slowed down by a disease. A disease that is important to know about is the wheat streak mosaic virus. This disease is predominant in areas such as Canada, Europe, and Russia, and has become more apparent in the Great Plains. To help in the prevention of this virus is to know what causes this to happen. In the journal Crop Science, G.L. Sharp addresses the fact that wheat cultivars need to be developed to become resistant to the wheat streak mosaic virus. The need for some kind of resistance is important because the wheat has no natural way to take care of itself. The author states that the cultivars may not be resistant, but will help the symptoms to be less severe. Three sources were compared by Sharp to see which was more resistant or tolerant to wheat streak mosaic virus. Theses three sources of resistance or tolerance being used were "thinopyrum germplasm, transgenic lines, and adaptive cultivars" (Sharp 2).

An Internet source titled "Wheat Streak Mosaic Disease" brings to the surface the cause, effect, and prevention of the virus. When leaves become noticeably yellowed, stunted, or rosetted then it is time to check for this virus. Some of the causes are hail storms, warm, dry weather in November which helps to spread wheat curl mite, and growing spring wheat and winter wheat in adjacent fields. A few ways to help in prevention is to not plant winter wheat too early, control weeds, and plant cultivars. Iftikhar H. Khalil, a writer for Crop Science says that traditionally wheat cultivars were bred for grain production only and may not be efficient for another use. Prevention and control of these diseases is extremely important. Knowing which cultivars to use comes from knowing which has the greater resistance to foliar disease and not only knowing which one has the highest yield potential. Soil moisture will be reduced with continuous removal of forage. Evaluating materials under the grain-only system is easier because it is "less difficult to manage and less expensive to take care of than a forage-plus-grain system" (Khalil 2). The objective of his study was to see the effect early-planted grazing had on grain yield and yield components and "estimate and compare genetic progress for yield and test weight of hard red winter (HRW) wheat cultivars under two management systems" (Khalil 2). The only disease that researchers look for is not wheat streak mosaic disease, but they look for foliar diseases including leaf rust that was studied in this article.

In the Great Plains growing wheat for human consumption is a small piece of wheat production for the U.S. Pointed out earlier, wheat is also grown to feed animals. Knowing the right type of wheat to feed cattle is a big concern. Farmers that have the right amount of wheat and the right type of wheat help with cattle production in the U.S. This type of production, like wheat, is a big part of the domestic life Americans live. Another issue with cattle feed is whether or not it is available during the winter and what to do if it is not. S.W. Coleman compares two different grasses, tallgrass prairie, and plain bluestem, to see which has the best protein for the cattle. This did not change size, the body condition, or performance of the cattle, but it did change their weight. This study is important in the Great Plains because a lot of our wheat goes to our cattle for feed. S.C. Rao realizes that "nutrient supply is limited in both quantity and quality from late July through November" (1). No crop can produce forage year round. "A basic goal of grazing programs is to provide high-- quality forage year-round to reduce costs of storing and purchasing forage or concentrate feeds" (2). Before winter wheat is available there is a need for additional forage resources to help sustain the livestock production. Rao's studies show that "pigeonpea has the potential to provide forage of high quality and adequate quantity for grazing livestock when other summer forages are unproductive" (5). B. Geleta performed an experiment on how seeding rates affected agronomic performance and end-use quality of modern wheat. These two issues are influenced by environment conditions, but not nearly as much by seeding rates. Producers have little control over the environment therefore making it hard to control the limit of productivity and quality of wheat. "Environments and replications were considered random effects and seeding rates and genotypes were considered fixed effects" (Geleta 3). If seeding rates are periodically and carefully observed this will achieve higher agronomic performance and better end-use quality. "Seeding rate is a predictable environmental variable" (Geleta 5). Despite genetic background, genotype response to seeding rate was similar. Since there was no research on this issue in the past, the information presented here allows for a more thorough research on earlier wheat farms.

Another issue to look at is tillage systems used in cropping wheat. J. R. Williams states that "planting wheat and grain sorghum in a rotation provides small economic advantage compared to planting a single crop of wheat of sorghum" (1). Williams' study was to research "economic profitability" (3) and how risky it is to use alternative tillage systems. More risk adverse producers prefer a combination of reduced-tillage continuous sorghum and reduced-tillage continuous wheat. The Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (FAIR) provided payments called Production Flexibility contract to agricultural producers. This allowed farmer to plant whatever crop desired where they choose. Since the FAIR Act "interest in alternative cropping systems has increased" (2). "This includes use of conservation tillage systems for producing wheat, as well as row crops, such as sorghum, in the Great Plains" (2). Studies show that more residue left on the soil concludes that the yields would be higher, however, lower wheat yields than those obtained with conventional practices in more humid regions" (2). Many yields do not vary no matter what different techniques used during tillage.

Money is another issue concerning what type of tillage system being used. Williams states that reduced -tillage wheat-sorghum-fallow was highest in net return (2). However most of the results change with the wheat's reaction to the environment. Morrison, a scientist in Williams' essay, "observed greater net returns for no-tillage grain sorghum than for chisel-tillage grain sorghum" (Morrison qtd. in Williams 2). This resulted in lower costs and higher return. Examining the tillage systems in the Great Plains with more precipitation showed that by "saving fuel, labor, and repairs did not offset additional costs of herbicides" (2). Having more intensive crop rotations made for greater net returns. By rotating crops in non-fallow systems helps to reduce chemical use as well as weeds. Crop rotations help with higher yields and help to lower input costs. The conventional tillage continuous sorghum had the highest crop production rate: "Sorghum is relatively more profitable than wheat" (5). Because of sorghum being a better investment for farmers in the Great Plains, researchers are seeing an increase in planting sorghum in rotations with wheat. Reduced tillage sorghum rotated with no-till wheat obtained highest net return, highest sorghum yield, equal to wheat yields, and lowest cost. Planting wheat and sorghum in rotations helped with reduction of diseases and had higher net returns. Choosing what type of system to use is never an easy process because there is no real way to predict what type of wheat season is in store for the Great Plains especially. However by seeing the results of Williams' study on the tillage systems, there is an alternative way to get a good wheat crop and save money as well as a disease prevention method.

The combination of these essays gives a little insight on what process wheat farmers have to deal with during all seasons. The environment can either be helpful or destructive to the wheat farmer, but there is no sure way to tell what nature will bring year to year. Not only are the farmers affected by these conditions, but the cattle raisers and consumers. If there is no wheat then there is no wheat product or cattle feed. If a wheat farmer cannot produce a good crop one-year then his income is affected. In this case his business is at stake and his family will be affected as well. Farmers need hundreds of thousands of dollars in farming and harvesting equipment, therefore making it necessary to have the correct knowledge on how to keep their wheat healthy and have the highest net return. Small farm owners have a disadvantage when compared to the mass producers. The ability to purchase the chemicals and machinery is limited to how healthy the crops are. Mass producers have the advantage of producing large amounts of crops with their large machinery and many workers. The tillage systems play a large part in the farmer's crop each year. New technologies show that there are alternative ways to help keep crops healthy and prosperous. There is a cost advantage to using some of these methods listed in the articles and that helps the small farmers with their businesses. Cost and production rates are the main focus of almost all farmers in the wheat industry. There is always competition in the market and there are always many risks to be taken. Many aspects in farming are taken by chance, but hopefully science will continue to make that easier on future farmers.

Work Cited

Antle, John M. and Vincent H. Smith. "An Overview of World Wheat Markets." The Economics of World Wheat Markets. Ed. J.M. Antle, et al. New York: CABI Publishing, 1999. 3-19.

Coleman, S. W., et al. "AF Comparison of Native Tallgrass Prairie and Plains Bluestem Forage Systems for Cow-Calf Production in the Southern Great Plains." Journal of Animal Science 79.7 (2001): 1697-1705.

Geleta, B., et al. "Seeding Rate and Genotype Effect on Agronomic Performance and End-Use Quality of Winter Wheat." Crop Science 42.3 (2002): 827-32.

Khalil, Iftikhar H., "Genetics Trends in Winter Wheat Yield and Test Weight Under Dual-Purpose and Grain-Only Management Systems." Crop Science 42.3 (2002): 710-15.

Rao, S. C., et al. "Forage Production and Nutritive Value of Selected Pigeonpea Ecotypes In the Southern Great Plains." Crop Science 42.4 (2002): 1259-63.

Sharp, G. L., et al. "Field Evaluation of Transgenic and Classical Sources of Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus Resistance." Crop Science 42.1 (2002): 105-10.

Wheat Streak Mosaic Disease. Ed. John E. Watkins, et al. March 2000. U of Nebraska. http://[email protected].

Williams, J. R., et al. "Profitability of Alternative Production and Tillage Strategies for Dryland Wheat and Grain Sorghum in the Central Great Plains." Journal of Soil And Water Conservation 55.1 (2000): 49-56.

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