The Wheat Belt is a section of the North American plains in which wheat is grown in large quantities. The belt extends for over 1500 miles in a north-south direction, beginning in Central Alberta and ending in Central Texas, USA. The wheat belt is subdivided into two sections: spring wheat and winter wheat. Hard red wheat is cultivated in the southern part of the wheat belt, within the following US states: Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Texas. The area south of the belt is suitable for winter wheat, whereby planting occurs after the autumn rains. As summer approaches, the wheat ripens and is harvested. The hard red spring wheat is dominant in some sections of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. However, spring wheat is also grown in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.
History of Wheat Production in the US
Wheat production in North America dates back to the colonial period. Planting often included the use of slave labor, using the broadcasting method, while harvesting was done manually using sickles. The harvested kernel was then ground into flour using a grist mill. The primary areas of early wheat production in the US included lands north and west of Washington D.C. Wheat growing later spread west across the country. However, due to wheat production requirements, wheat cultivation was further extended into other areas with a less favorable climate. At the end of the American Civil War, wheat farming was introduced on the fertile lands of the Western Mississippi Valley and Great Plains. Additionally, the industrialization era led to the invention of better farming tools and equipment. Such advancements, including the use of drills in sowing and cradles in harvesting, caused wheat production to greatly increase in the 19th century. Later, reapers and blinders replaced cradles, and steam-powered machines replaced flails. Railway lines also created larger markets, leading to a further increase in production.
Wheat production in the US is categorized based on climate, into spring and winter wheat. Winter wheat is most common and accounts for an estimated 75% of total wheat production in the US. Wheat is further classified into hard red winter wheat, hard red spring wheat, soft red winter wheat, white wheat, and durum wheat. Hard red winter wheat accounts for 40% of wheat produced and is primarily used for making flour. Hard red spring wheat has a high protein value, and approximately 20% is used in bread making. White wheat accounts for an estimated 12.5% of US wheat, and its flour is used in making products such as noodles, cereals, and crackers. Durum wheat is preferred for making pasta, while soft red winter wheat is used to make cookies, cakes, and crackers.
Approximately 36% of wheat produced in the wheat belt in consumed locally, while 50% is exported to other countries. 10% is used directly or as a component in the manufacture of livestock feeds, and only 4 percent of the wheat produced is used in the preparation of seedlings.
While the US exports 50% of the wheat it produces, the country's proportion in the world market has recently declined due to increased competition from the European Union (EU), Canada, Ukraine, Argentina, Australia, and Russia. The wheat varieties that the US exports include soft red winter, hard red spring, durum, and white wheat.