Wheat is a cereal grain, originally from the Levant region of the Near East and Ethiopian Highlands, but now cultivated worldwide. In 2010 world production of wheat was 651 million tons, making it the third most-produced cereal after maize (844 million tons) and rice (672 million tons). In 2009, world production of wheat was 682 million tons, making it the second most-produced cereal after maize (817 million tons), and with rice as close third (679 million tons).
This grain is grown on more land area than any other commercial food. World trade in wheat is greater than for all other crops combined. Globally, wheat is the leading source of vegetable protein in human food, having a higher protein content than either maize (corn) or rice, the other major cereals. In terms of total production tonnages used for food, it is currently second to rice as the main human food crop and ahead of maize, after allowing for maize’s more extensive use in animal feeds.
Wheat is widely cultivated as a cash crop because it produces a good yield per unit area, grows well in a temperate climate even with a moderately short growing season, and yields a versatile, high-quality flour that is widely used in baking. Most breads are made with wheat flour, including many breads named for the other grains they contain like most rye and oat breads. The popularity of foods made from wheat flour creates a large demand for the grain, even in economies with significant food surpluses.
In recent years, low international wheat prices have often encouraged farmers in the USA to change to more profitable crops. In 1998, the price at harvest was $2.68 per bushel. A USDA report revealed that in 1998, average operating costs were $1.43 per bushel and total costs were $3.97 per bushel. In that study, farm wheat yields averaged 41.7 bushels per acre (2.2435 metric ton/hectare), and typical total wheat production value was $31,900 per farm, with total farm production value (including other crops) of $173,681 per farm, plus $17,402 in government payments. There were significant profitability differences between low- and high-cost farms, mainly due to crop yield differences, location, and farm size.
Wheat futures are traded on the Chicago Board of Trade, Kansas City Board of Trade, and Minneapolis Grain Exchange, and have delivery dates in March (H), May (K), July (N), September (U), and December (Z).