California WheatWheat is the most widely grown crop in the world. It accounts for 20 percent of the world’s caloric intake. Grain foods provide valuable energy and many nutrients. The average American eats about 135 lbs of wheat flour each year. Flour from wheat is the framework for almost all baked goods, as well as pasta, cereal and many other products.

California wheat production covered over 700,000 acres with a farm value of approximately 230 million dollars for grain produced in 2010. Wheat was grown on more than 111,000 acres in Imperial County in 2009 .  In 2010, the acreage dropped down to 58,562 acres, but increased to about 75,000 acres in 2011  The optimum planting date for the highest yields in the Imperial Valley is from early December through early to middle January.

There are hundreds of varieties of wheat produced in the United States, all of which fall into one of six recognized classes: Hard Red Winter, Hard Red Spring, Hard White, Soft White, Durum, and Soft Red Winter. California grows all of the U.S. wheat classes except Soft Red Winter.

Wheat has two distinct growing seasons. Winter wheat is sown in the fall or winter and harvested in the spring or summer; spring wheat is planted in the spring and harvested in late summer or early fall. Most varieties grown in California are genetically spring wheat varieties, i.e. do not require vernalization, however because the majority of California wheat-growing regions have very mild winter temperatures, spring wheat can be sown in the fall or early winter. Since market classifications typically refer to the season of production, not growth habit, California’s red wheat production is referred to as Hard Red Winter wheat.

Wheat classes are determined not only by the time of year they are planted and harvested, but also by their hardness, color and the shape of their kernels. Where each class of wheat is grown depends largely upon rainfall, temperature, soil conditions and tradition. Each class of wheat has similar family characteristics, especially as related to milling and baking or other food use. Hard Red Winter – Hard red winter wheat is an important, versatile bread wheat with excellent milling and baking characteristics. It has medium to high protein (10.0 to 14.0 percent), hard endosperm, red bran, and strong and mellow gluten content. It is used in Artisan and pan breads, Asian noodles, hard rolls, flat breads, and general purpose flour.

Hard Red Spring – Hard red spring wheat is an important bread wheat with excellent milling and baking characteristics. It has high protein (12.0 to 15.0 percent), hard endosperm, red bran, strong gluten, and high water absorption. It is used in pan breads, hearth breads, rolls, croissants, bagels, hamburger buns, pizza crust, and for blending.

Soft White – Soft white wheat has low protein (8.5 to 10.5 percent) and low moisture, and provides excellent milling results. It is used in flat breads, cakes, biscuits, pastries, crackers, Udon-style noodles, and snack foods.

Hard White – Hard white wheat has a hard endosperm, white bran, and a medium to high protein content (10.0 to 14.0 percent). It is used in instant/ramen noodles, whole wheat or high extraction flour applications, Artisan and pan breads, and flat breads.

Durum – Durum wheat is the hardest of all wheat classes with a high protein content (12.0 to 15.0 percent), yellow endosperm, and white bran. It is used in pasta, couscous, and some Mediterranean breads.

Soft Red Winter – Soft red winter wheat is a high-yielding wheat with low protein (8.5 – 10.5%), soft endosperm, red bran, and weak gluten. It is used in pastries, cakes, cookies, crackers, pretzels, flat breads, and for blending flours. This class of wheat is grown primarily in the eastern third of the United States.

SOURCE – Imperial Irrigation District Crop Report 4/13/2011


Wheat is one of eight cereal grains known to man. It is a grass variety producing edible seeds and is the most widely cultivated grain grown in the world. Its botanical name is Triticum aestivum.

The development of civilization may be directly connected to the cultivation of wheat. Villages developed when primitive man discovered he no longer needed to follow game and forage for his food. He could grow wheat during the summer, store it for food in the winter and use the remaining seed to plant in the spring. Actual cultivation may have started in the Fertile Crescent of western Asia around 6,000 to 8,000 B.C. or earlier.

Anthropologists speculate that primitive man first chewed the raw wheat kernel before he learned to pound it into flour and mix it with water to make porridge. About 10,000 years before Christ, man first started eating a crude form of flat bread—a baked combination of flour and water. Ancient Egyptians are believed to be the first bakers of the white, leavened bread that we know today. Around 3,000 B.C., they started to ferment their flour and water mixture using wild yeast present in the air. Eventually they added sugar, salt and flavorings such as poppy and sesame seeds. Even though the Egyptians and Romans made leavened bread, they did not understand that airborne yeast caused the bread to rise. Not until the 1800’s was yeast identified as the organism that converts carbohydrates into alcohol and produces a leavening gas (carbon dioxide) in the process.

Wheat was introduced into the United States through two separate avenues: first, by the French and Spanish into the Southwest; and second, by Northern Europeans into the eastern United States. Spanish wheat was introduced into what is now the Big Bend area of Texas in 1582. Hard red winter wheat, the largest commercially grown wheat in the United States, was not introduced until 1874, when Mennonite immigrants from the Crimea brought this winter-hardy wheat to the Kansas plains.

Wheat is classified by hardness of the grain, the color of the kernel and the time of planting. Growing wheat requires soil, water and sunlight. Farmers use special equipment to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water the crop and harvest the wheat. Winter wheats are planted in the fall. After the grass-like seedlings emerge, they lie dormant during the winter months. They emerge again in the spring, ripen and are harvested in early summer. Spring wheats are planted in the spring and harvested in late summer. Spring wheats grow best in the northern areas of the United States where the summers are not too hot for the young plants. Conversely, winter wheats grow best in those areas where the winters are not too cold.

Among the classes of wheat, the only difference in nutrients is the protein content. This difference is nutritionally insignificant, but the protein content and quality does make a difference in terms of baking. Durum, the hardest wheat, averages 14 to 16 percent protein and is primarily used for pasta. Hard spring wheats range from 12 to 18 percent protein and are used for yeast breads. Hard winter wheats range from 10 to 15 percent and are used for breads and all-purpose flour. Soft wheats range from 8 to 11 percent protein and are used in cakes, cookies, pastries, crackers and cereals.

Wheat is grown in nearly every state in the United States and in many other countries. The top wheat-producing countries are China, India, the United States, former Soviet Republics, France, Canada and Australia.

The United States exports as much as 50 percent of its own production and is considered a primary supplier of wheat to the world. This wheat helps improve the nutritional status of many people. The top 5 wheat customers of the United States in 2003/04 were: 1) Egypt, 2) Japan, 3) Mexico, 4) Nigeria and 5) South Korea.

Wheat Consumption
A nation of 1 billion people, China is traditionally thought of as a rice-eating nation. The Chinese, however, consume 180 pounds of wheat flour per person every year, mostly in the form of noodles. Some nations have much higher annual per capita wheat flour consumption, such as Israel, at 294 pounds; France, at 241 pounds; Egypt, at 384 pounds; and Algeria, at 441 pounds.

The average American consumed 133 pounds of wheat flour in 2004. There is room for increased wheat consumption in the United States. At the turn of the century, Americans consumed about 210 pounds of wheat flour per person each year. In 1971, that figure hit an all-time low of 110 pounds per person because of inaccurate information that portrayed bread, starches and carbohydrates as fattening.

Today, health professionals recommend that more than 45-65 percent of daily caloric intake should be from grain based foods. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines suggest that we consume 5 to 10 ounces of grain foods daily (depending on age, gender and activity level), with half of them coming from whole grains. Consumption has had its up and downs through the years due to various fad-diets. Hopefully consumption will be on the rise again and may someday approach the 210-pound level.

Wheat Facts:

  • Wheat is a member of the grass family that produces a dry, one-seeded fruit commonly called a kernel.
  • More than 17,000 years ago, humans gathered the seeds of plants and ate them.
  • After rubbing off the husks, early people simply chewed the kernels raw, parched or simmered.
  • Wheat originated in the “cradle of civilization” in the Tigris and Euphrates river valley, near what is now Iraq.
  • The Roman goddess, Ceres, who was deemed protector of the grain, gave grains their common name today – “cereal.”
  • Wheat was first planted in the United States in 1777 as a hobby crop.
  • Today, wheat is the primary grain used in U.S. grain products.
  • Three-quarters of all U.S. grain products are made from wheat flour.
  • Wheat is grown in 42 states in the United States.
  • In 2008/2009, U.S. farmers grew nearly 2.4 billion bushels of wheat on 63 million acres of land.
  • In the United States, one acre of wheat yields an average of around 40 bushels of wheat.
  • About half of the wheat grown in the United States is used domestically.
  • One bushel of wheat contains approximately one million individual kernels.
  • One bushel of wheat weighs approximately 60 pounds.
  • One bushel of wheat yields approximately 42 pounds of white flour OR 60 pounds of whole-wheat flour.
  • A bushel of wheat yields 42 one-and-a-half pound commercial loaves of white bread OR about 90 one-pound loaves of whole wheat bread.