Wheat

Wheat, common name for members of genus Triticum of the GRASS family (Gramineae) and for the CEREAL grains produced by these grasses. Wheat figures among the three most-produced cereals in the world, along with corn and rice. Canada is the world's sixth-largest producer and one of the largest exporters of wheat, producing annually an average of over 25 million t and exporting about 19 million t. Cultivated forms evolved from natural crossings of wild species, followed by domestication and selection by humans. Wheat was domesticated in Southwest Asia over thousands of years and spread across Asia, Africa and Europe. Introduction to the New World took place in the late 15th and 16th centuries. The most important modern cultivated species (ie, cultivars) are common and durum wheats, usually given the binomial designations T. aestivum and T. turgidum var. durum, respectively.

History

In Canada, wheat probably was first grown at PORT-ROYAL in about 1605; the first exports were made in 1654. Although personnel at some HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY posts experimented with wheat, and the settlers at the RED RIVER COLONY had some success in 1815, the early years in western Canada were precarious ones for wheat farmers. Many cultivars from Europe were tried: some were winter wheats that could not survive Canada's severe winters; others were spring wheats that matured too late for the short growing season.

The cultivar Red Fife, developed in Ontario, became very popular because of its good yield and excellent milling and baking qualities. By about 1870 Red Fife was very popular on the prairies but it, too, froze in the fields in years with early frosts. Later investigations have revealed that Red Fife is actually the central European cultivar Galician.

William SAUNDERS, first director of the Dominion Experimental Farms, was interested in plant breeding. His son, Sir Charles SAUNDERS, took over the wheat-breeding work in 1903 and developed the cultivar Marquis (see MARQUIS WHEAT) from a cross, made some years earlier, between Hard Red Calcutta and Red Fife. He had a small increase plot (12 plants) of Marquis in 1904, but it took several years to verify that it matured earlier than Red Fife and had excellent yield and superior milling and baking qualities. It was distributed in the spring of 1909 and quickly became very popular throughout Canada. Western wheat production was increasing rapidly at this time: 2 million t, 1904; 3.7 million t, 1906; 7.7 million t, 1913. Red Fife and Marquis made Canada famous for its high-quality hard red spring wheat. Marquis was later adopted as the statutory standard of quality for this class of wheat, a position it held until 1987.

Protection

Stem rust (Puccinia graminis tritici) is a FUNGUS disease disseminated by spores, which can be carried by wind for thousands of kilometres. In Canada, epidemics in 1916, 1927 and 1935 caused losses estimated at about 3.6, 3.3 and 3.2 million t of grain. The Dominion Rust Research Laboratory was set up in Winnipeg in 1925 to investigate stem rust and develop resistant cultivars. Renown, their first cultivar, distributed in 1936, has been followed by several other important cultivars (eg, Selkirk, Manitou, Neepawa); however, the Thatcher cultivar, developed in Minnesota and licensed in Canada in 1935, became the dominant form for many years. A new physiologic race of stem rust (15B) became epidemic from 1953 to 1955, causing losses of at least 8 million t of grain. Since that time, stem rust has caused little loss, but leaf rust (P. recondita) has been a problem because of its rapid changes in virulence. Cultivars resistant to both rusts are available.

In Alberta and western Saskatchewan, rust was rarely a problem, but drought and wheat-stem sawfly (Cephus cinctus) were. The sawfly, which occurs mainly in the Swift Current, Sask, to Lethbridge, Alta, area, cuts stems so that the heads fall on the ground and cannot be harvested. Resistance has been obtained by developing cultivars with solid stems, eg, Rescue (licensed 1946). RESEARCH STATIONS in the area have since developed a number of resistant cultivars with better yield and quality. They also work on developing drought-resistant cultivars.

Production

Within Canada, wheat is the most important cultivated crop (grown on over 9 million ha), though production has declined in the last 20 years and canola is now nearly as important. Only one class of durum is grown, amber durum (spring); however, there are several classes of common wheat, based on seed hardness and colour, and on sowing time (autumn or spring). About 4.8% of Canada's 327 000 farms are classified as wheat farms. Wheat in Canada brings almost $4 billion to the farm gate and represents more than $5.5 billion in exports. Soft white winter wheat is grown on an area of some 750 000 ha, mainly in Ontario, although production in Western Canada has been increasing in recent years due to varietal improvements and good yields. Over 3 million t are produced annually, of which more than half is exported. The protein content is usually 9-10%, and this class is used for cake and pastry flour and breakfast cereals. The flour, mixed with hard wheat flour, produces an all-purpose flour.

Saskatchewan alone grows over 45% of Canada's wheat. Production on the PRAIRIES is usually much greater than domestic consumption; therefore, the industry is export oriented. Common wheat is grown on about 7 million ha and durum wheat on 2 million ha. The protein levels of prairie wheats are usually 12-15%. Durum wheat is used for the production of semolina for pasta products, and hard red spring wheat is used for bread. Wheat contains gluten protein, which forms minute gas cells that hold carbon dioxide during fermentation, allowing dough to rise and resulting in light bread. Importers of Canadian wheat often blend it with weaker wheats before using it for bread. For this reason, much effort goes into maintaining the strength and mixing qualities of Canadian wheat. Maintenance involves controlling cultivars grown and applying a comprehensive grading system.

See also COMMODITY INSPECTION AND GRADING.