Wheat Dreams Are Sweet

Inside Dakota Ag

S.D.'s average wheat yield would be 246 bushels per acre if we could increase yields as much as they did over the past 112 years.

Published on: April 17, 2013

There’s plenty of reason to be optimistic that we can produce more wheat to feed the world’s growing population, says Randy Englund, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission and South Dakota Wheat, Inc.

Average yields in South Dakota increased from 6.5 bushels per acre in 1900 to nearly 40 bushels per acre in 2012.

If South Dakota’s average wheat yield were to increase as much in the next 112 years, yields in 2124 would be 246 bushels per acre.

What will it take to increase yields that much? It will probably require everything we can imagine now -- new varieties, growth regulators, fungicides and fertilizers -- and lots of things that we might only dream about.

When I dream about what’s possible with wheat I imagine plants that look more like sorghum. And maybe in the future we will grow wheat in fields covered by giant glass domes, produce two or three crops each season, or grow kernels like mushrooms in grain bin sized test tubes right on the farm.

What’s your dream?

It’s okay to dream big. It's even necessary to dream big. The world's population is projected to increase from a current 7 billion people to 9 billion in the 2050. To match population growth The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that global food production will need to double between now and 2050 to feed the world.

It is estimated that by the year 2020, U.S. wheat trade will increase by 20% or 737 million bushels. This is equal to seven times South Dakota’s current annual wheat production.

“For decades pessimists have been telling us farm technology would run out and we would reach the limits to crop yields and farm productivity,” Englund says. “Yet, we tripled wheat production in the United States between 1950 and 1990. In 1961, when the South Dakota Wheat Commission was established by farmers, wheat yields were 14.5 bushels per acre. South Dakota produced 33.5 million bushels on 2.3 million harvested acres. In 2012, South Dakota wheat farmers produced three times as much wheat on essentially the same acres.”

That's a good start.