The main wheat producers in order of volume are Europe, China, Russia, USA, Russia, Ukraine, Canada and Australia.
Different varieties of wheat are grown depending on the growing climate and geography of each country. For example, in Canada the harsh winters require a fast-growing grain, so wheat is sown and matured in about 90 days. But totally different varieties are used to cope with the dry sun-baked lands of Northern India and parts of Africa.
In the UK, wheat is harvested in August, having been planted the previous September. Wheat is sown on two fifths of Britain’s arable land, resulting in a harvest of between 15 to 17 million tonnes per year. About half of the crop is made into food for humans, and some is used for animal feed (e.g. to feed chickens, cows and pigs). About three per cent of the crop is used as seed to plant for the following year.
Wheat grows best in dry climates. It needs good rich soil to ensure high yields. The most productive crops are grown on the well-drained, deep, rich soils in the East of England where summer temperatures are highest and rainfall is low.
The farmer does different things at different times of the year to make sure that the growing plants have everything they need to grow well: soil, water, warmth and sunshine.
Late Autumn / Winter
- The farmer ploughs the field and sows the wheat seeds
- The seeds have to be sown at the correct depth in the soil and immediately covered. 95% of wheat is sown in the autumn whilst other cereal crops, such as barley, may also be sown in the spring.
- After planting, the seeds may be sprayed to control weeds and pests
- The plants grow slowly during the winter and look like a field of grass
- The plants grow a lot in spring and each wheat plant produces many shoots.
- The plants need sunlight, warmth and water to grow well, and may be treated with fertilisers to help them grow well.
- Fertilisers are substances added to the soil to increase the yield of the crop. They work by providing one or more of the essential ingredients that plants need for growth: nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. Farmers may use organic fertilisers (e.g. manure, waste crops) or inorganic products (e.g. ammonium nitrate).
- The wheat may also be sprayed again to control weeds and pests.
- Disease, weed and pest control continues throughout the growing season. Wheat plants can suffer diseases which affect their leaves, stems or ears. Farmers use fungicides to control disease caused by fungi, herbicides to keep down weeds, and insecticides to control insect pests. At the same time, farmers need to strike a balance between getting a good crop and protecting the environment
- The wheat ripens, and the nutrients from the plant are transferred to the grain in the ear. These ‘ears’ appear in early June, and each ear of wheat has about 40 grains.
- The grain is harvested between mid-July and September. Machines called Combine harvester machines cut down the wheat and separate the grain from the stalks. The machine also cleans the grain using a number of sieves.
- The grain will be dried, stored and then sent to the mill to be made into flour.
- Some grain may also be kept by the farmer for live stock feed.
- The stalks – called straw – can be made into bales and used for animal bedding, or ploughed into the soil.
- After harvesting, the farmer’s growing year begins again and he starts to preparing the land
- Farmers will plough their land to prepare a seed bed for their crops. Ploughing turns over the weeds and debris from the previous crop. These rot underground providing nutrients for the next crop.
- Harvest festivals in the UK often happen in September or October to celebrate the harvesting of the crop.
Did you know that wheat is the most widely grown cereal crop in the UK. Cereals are grasses that produce grains that we, and animals, eat. There are several different types of cereal, e.g. wheat, oats, barley, rice, maize and rye. Some of crop will be used to feed animals, including pigs, chickens and cows, which provide us with meat, eggs and milk.