Wheat supplies about 20 percent of the world’s food calories and is the national food staple in many countries. The United States, China and India are the world’s top wheat producers. Wheat is a versatile crop that can be grown under harsh conditions where it is too dry and cold for rice and corn. Optimum conditions for productive wheat growing include loamy soil.
Domestic wheat production originated in the Middle Eastern area known as the Fertile Crescent of Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia and Iraq. Archaeological evidence from 9,000 years ago describes wild einkorn wheat as the first domesticated variety. Hybridized wheat, which cannot reproduce naturally but has higher yields, was developed 8,000 years ago. Russian immigrants introduced Turkey red wheat to the United States in the late 19th century.
The Montana Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences recommends “3 feet of silt loam soil that is moist at planting time” for optimum wheat crop yield. Loamy soil is composed of a relatively even distribution of sand, silt and clay. Soil scientists describe this as a soil’s texture, which can be changed with the addition of soil additives. Loam is considered the ideal growing soil because it retains water easily, allows root spread, and provides a wide range of essential nutrients.
Sand is the largest particle in loamy soil. It contains few nutrients but allows good drainage. Silt is the particle size between sand and clay. It is smooth and powdery. Clay is the smallest particle size and has the highest nutrient content. Overly clay soil does not allow adequate water and air into the root system of wheat plants, resulting in stunted growth.
The stabilized organic matter content in loamy soil consists of highly decomposed plant and animal residue. Active fraction organic matter is made of plant and animal residue that is actively decomposing. Loamy soil for optimum wheat growth has both stabilized and active organic matter content. “Up to 15 percent of soil organic matter is fresh organic material and living organisms,” according to the University of Minnesota Extension.
Soil Food Web
Loamy soil is an active food web for the millions of microorganisms that create healthy plant growth and nutritious food. They range in size from one-celled bacteria, fungi, algae and protozoa to the more complex nematodes, earthworms, insects, small vertebrates and micro-arthropods. Dr. Elaine Ingham of the National Resources Conservation Service describes these organisms as the form and function of soil and the creation of healthy food.