Wheat is one of the first cereals known to have been domesticated, and its ability to self-pollinate greatly facilitated the selection of many distinct domesticated varieties. Archaeological records show that this first occurred in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ of Turkey, Syria and Israel, and the Nile Delta in Egypt. By 3000 BC, wheat had reached England and Scandinavia.
The first domestication of wheat was of einkorn in southeastern Turkey at about 9,000 B.C. Cultivation and repeated harvesting and sowing of the grains of wild grasses led to the creation of domestic strains, as mutant forms ('sports') of wheat were preferentially chosen by farmers. In domesticated wheat, grains are larger, and the seeds (spikelets) remain attached to the ear by a toughened rachis during harvesting. Although not necessarily intended, selection for these traits by farmers made gathering the seeds easier; such 'incidental' selection was an important part of crop domestication.
Common wheat is the raw material for most flour milling although some UK flour millers also use small amounts of rye, spelt and malted barley.
Wheat is the second largest agricultural crop in the world after rice. It is grown on more than 218 million hectares with an annual production of about 730 million tonnes. With rice, wheat is the world's most favored staple food. It is a major dietary component because of the wheat plant's agronomic adaptability with the ability to grow from near arctic regions to the equator, and from sea level to altitudes of 4,000m above sea level. In addition to agronomic adaptability, wheat offers ease of grain storage and ease of conversion into flour for making a broad range of foods. Wheat is the most important source of carbohydrate in a majority of countries.
The largest producers of wheat in the world are China, India, USA, Russia, France, Canada and Germany.
In the UK, wheat is the largest arable crop (by area) with an annual planting of approx. 1.9 million hectares. Production is centred towards the eastern parts of England with the east anglia, south-east and east midland regions together accounting for more than 58% of the crop grown.
The annual UK production varies greatly, depending mainly on the climate, but is in the range 11 -18 million tonnes. Average yields for feed wheat are 8.5tonnes/ha with bread making varieties being slightly lower at 7.80 tonnes/ha. This difference will probably begin to decrease with the introduction of the newer high-yielding bread making varieties. Many specialist milling wheat farmers consistently exceed these average yields.