By Alan Caruba
Today, we shall talk of wheat. Yes, wheat!
Since 98% of Americans have no connection to farming beyond a visit to the supermarket, most give no thought to how food products get to the shelves.
However, if you do a quick inventory of the foods you eat on a daily basis, you will discover that a significant number have some connection to wheat. Pizza crust is a wheat product. Some cereals (Wheaties!) and all pastas begin as wheat.
All breads. All cookies. All cakes and pies. All pancakes. Donuts, too. Hhhhhmmmm, donuts!
Born and raised in the suburbs, I never gave any thought to farming until my work as a writer and photojournalist took me to the fields of farmers around the nation to document aspects of their work. It was a revelation.
Indeed, as revelations go, if you are at all familiar with the Old Testament, you should swiftly begin to add up the many references to this king of all grains. From “give us our daily bread” to “cast your bread upon the waters” wheat has played an essential role in the development of civilizations dependent upon it or which thrived based on its export.
Little wonder that the lyrics of “America the Beautiful” begin, “O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties, Above the fruited plain!”
Wheat still plays an important, though largely unreported role among nations today. China recently completed a three-month inventory and, with a population of more than a billion, it is little wonder that Chinese officials say that “grain has always been the first and foremost issue to maintain peace and stability.”
I had a college professor who suggested that no government is ever more than two weeks of being overthrown and replaced if it cannot feed its people.
Saudi Arabia just purchased 440,000 tons of hard wheat from the U.S. A desert nation, it needs about 2.3 million tons of wheat per year. The disruption to life in Pakistan, thanks to al Qaeda and the Taliban, has affected its wheat production and the U.S. is providing $26 million to go toward the purchase of wheat and other food. The world’s largest importer of grains is Japan and it is looking to use overseas investments in nations like Brazil, Argentina, Romania and Hungary to ensure a stable supply of food as global demand increases.
So maybe now wheat isn’t as boring a topic as you might have thought, eh?
While most people think of Kansas when you say wheat, the State of Washington is a major producer and Dr. David Bragg, Ph.D., an extension entomologist, recently enumerated the insect pests that can be depended upon to attack wheat.
They include the Russian Wheat Aphid, the Ladybird Beetle, the English Grain Aphid and Rosy Grass Aphid. Then there’s the Haanchen Barley Mealybug and Wireworm Beetle Larvae, as well as the False Wireworm, the Cereal Leaf Beetle, Cutworms and Armyworms. By no means should we leave out the Wheat Stem Maggot, the Wheat Stem Saw Fly, and the Wheat Joint Worm.
I want you to think about this army of insect predators the next time some environmental group is demanding that all pesticides be banned and that all grains and vegetables be grown “organically.” They feel the same about the herbicides that counter the affect of an astonishing range of weeds that also want to take up residence in Farmer Jones’ fields.
America is blessed to be the “bread basket” to much of the world that imports our wheat. Agricultural exports account for a major part of our national wealth and, other than the producers of the energy we use, our farmers and ranchers are among the most essential citizens we have in this great nation of ours.
And that, dear reader is today’s tribute to wheat!