Spring wheat, a member of the grass family, produces fruits called kernels. Each head of wheat contains about 50 kernels, also known as wheat seeds. Measured in bushels, a common term wheat farmers use to measure their harvest, one bushel of wheat contains approximately 1 million kernels.
Archaeological evidence suggests that domestic wheat originated around 9,000 years ago in southwest Asia in an area known as the Fertile Crescent. The first wheat grown included a type called wild einkorn wheat. This wheat still thrives in the Fertile Crescent.
By the 1600s, Columbus brought wheat on his ships as he headed to the New World. During the colonial years, early settlers relied on wheat as a food source, but it wasn't until Russian immigrants brought Turkey red wheat with them that wheat production really took off. In 1897, the U.S. Department of Agriculture started a wheat research and development program. To this day, the program works to provide new wheat varieties.
Once a kernel of wheat gets sown, germination begins with new leaves produced at about one every four to five days. A mature spring wheat plant grows to several feet tall and consists of eight or nine leaves total, although late-maturing wheat varieties may sport more leaves. Next, a long stem starts to push up out of the top of the plant, eventually culminating in a wheat head full of seeds. To determine the day for harvesting spring wheat, farmers rub a head of wheat between their fingers, blow the chaff away, and pick out a grain to chew on. If the grain cracks easily and gets soft while chewing, this means the wheat is ready for immediately harvesting.
Wheat falls into two classes, including winter wheat and spring wheat. Winter wheat requires temperature from 38 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit to expose the seedlings to help with plant development. Spring wheat, on the other hand, does not require exposure to the cold, and instead, gets planted in the spring.
Kansas remains the largest wheat producer in the United States, with North Dakota coming in second. When it comes to the leading spring wheat producers, North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota and South Dakota are the top four states. Additional top producers of wheat include Oklahoma, Washington, Texas, Colorado and Nebraska.
Spring wheat contains high amounts of protein and gluten that help leavened dough rise. The nutritious grain, filled with minerals and vitamins, stores and processes easily, making it ideal for use in a wide variety of foods. Foods using wheat include baked goods, noodles, pasta, puddings, soups, gravies, sauces and baby foods. Wheat gets fed directly to livestock. Byproducts from the wheat processing industry also create feed for livestock and poultry. Industrial uses of wheat include glue, oil and alcohol, while the straw from wheat gets used in newsprint and other paper products.