As a cereal plant, wheat is probably the oldest of the crops.
Native to the Middle East, it was cultivated in the Euphrates valley by 4000 B.C. and in China and India by 2500 B.C. Wheat is as important a part of the diet and civilizations of the Middle East and that of the European peoples, as rice has been to the peoples of East Asia and Southeast Asia.
It is a major food crop in the world, and an important commodity on the world grain market.
Wheat is characteristically different from rice in its climatic and soil requirements. Best suited to the comparatively dry, cool, irrigated lands of the temperate latitudes, the plant offers a striking contrast to that of rice which favors hot and moist areas.
Asia produces nearly 40 percent of the world’s output. China leads the production which amounts to a little over one-sixth of the world. India produces nearly ten percent of the world’s production. Most nations in the Middle East are also producers, among them Turkey and Pakistan are the important ones.
China’s production generally ranges between 100- 110 million metric tons a year. China’s wheat lands lie in the drier, cool, mid-latitude areas of north and northeastern part mostly north of the Qinlin. Production has more than tripled, from 31 million metric tons to 110 million metric tons, between 1970 and 1999.
But China has been an important importer (importing normally between 10-15 million metric tons from the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia), although It has been able to reduce its dependence since 1985 as it stepped up its production.
After China, India is the most important producer in Asia, producing nearly one-half the output of China, but commands a third position in the world (the U.S.A. holds the second rank). The cultivation is confined to the cooler and drier lands in the western and central parts of the country, particularly in the irrigated lands of the Indus basin (basin shared with Pakistan), the middle Ganga basin, and parts of central India The proportion of cropland declines eastward.
The area under wheat cultivation more than doubled between 1950 and 1990, but production increased nine-fold. Crop yields are low by world comparison, one-half those in the U.S.A., but have been steadily improving since the 1960s following the introduction of the high-yielding varieties associated with the Green Revolution.
Wheat is a staple diet of the people of southwestern Asia and is raised everywhere provided suitable climatic conditions for its growth exist, or where man has made arrangements to provide water in these dry lands. Turkey, Pakistan and Iran are the major regional producers.