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Spring Wheat Vs. Winter Wheat

wheat image by Artur Ciba from

A grass, wheat (Triticum aestivale) has origins to the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia a millennia ago. Today, wheat is grown in regions with somewhat nutrient-poor soils and low rainfall. Over the centuries, man has selected various types of wheat to produce the best grain crops and more than 20,000 different varieties of wheat exist today, according "Economic Botany: Plants in Our World." The label "spring" or "winter" wheat simply refers to the time of year the seed is sown and sprouts

Classes of Wheat

The many types of wheat grown throughout the world have common names such as durum, poulard, einkhorn or emmer. In the United States, there are generally six classes of wheat grown: hard red winter, hard red spring, durum, soft red winter, hard white and soft white.

Sowing Season

Farmers plant a specific class of wheat based on the optimal conditions for a region's climate and soil. Wheat sown in autumn and grown over the cool, moist winter months is generally called "winter wheat." Winter wheat matures in late spring. In harsh winter regions, planting in autumn may be unfavorable, so wheat seed is sown early in spring and grows over the summer.


Winter wheat grows across a longer season and begins to ripen its seed heads anytime from late spring into midsummer. Spring wheat grows over the summer and is ready to harvest in late summer to mid-fall. The wheat harvest is typically delayed in both seasonal crop types until the seed head grain's moisture content is at or below 13.5 percent, according to Purdue University.


Winter wheat, when it is well-rooted and young, can be used as forage for livestock in late fall, winter and very early spring. As long as the winter wheat plants have not yet begun elongating their stems, which eventually flower and produce the grain, cattle can eat the nutritious short foliage. Both spring and winter wheat is harvested for grain for both human and livestock consumption. Sometimes farmers plant wheat strictly for the hay, not worrying about the development of flowers and grain seed.

American Crop Distribution

In the United States, wheat is grown most heavily from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River, across the Great Plains from the Canadian to Mexican borders. Spring wheat is typically grown in the northern states and avoided in the southern Great Plains. Hard red winter wheat is grown throughout all parts of the Great Plains and northern Rockies. Soft red winter wheat, by contrast, is more heavily grown across the Southeast.

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