The U.S. continues to be one of the world’s largest producers of wheat – a staple crop in the diet of our global population, and U.S. wheat farmers feed a significant portion of the population with wheat grown domestically. In fact, 50% of wheat grown in the United States is exported abroad. Of the remaining 50%, we consume 36% as food here at home, 10% feeds our livestock, and 4% is retained as seed for the next planting. U.S. wheat farmers truly help feed the world.
Currently, wheat provides as much as half of the calories consumed in North Africa and West and Central Asia. But our planet’s population is growing. Recent population forecasts estimate that our population won’t plateau at the 9 billion-level by mid-century we once thought, but will continue to increase to 10 billion people by the end of the century before tapering off. If demand stays proportional, wheat consumption would need to increase by 60% by 2050. We now face the problem that the wheat industry and genetic pioneer Dr. Norman Borlaug often discuss: How do we feed an increasingly growing global population?
We must grow more wheat to meet this rising demand. As total planted acres of wheat decrease in the United States, our need for wheat grows. But simply increasing acres-planted is not enough. It seems imperative that farmers find a way to increase their yield-per-acre as well. This can only be done through continued innovation and research of wheat to develop varieties that can withstand pests, diseases and climate challenges. The future of wheat innovation has the potential to result in production advances through an industry-wide collaborative effort. Since 2008, there has been an encouraging resurgence of private-sector investment in public wheat breeding programs that have driven wheat technology for so many years. The reality is the research must continue, and without the collaboration of the private and public sectors, wheat innovation will only lag further behind other advancements in crop production.
Feeding a growing global population is one of the greatest challenges farmers have ever faced, and America’s wheat farmers can help meet the demand.