wheat Revised February 2022


Wheat is produced on the third most acres in the United States following corn and soybeans. In 2021, the United States produced 1.65 billion bushels of wheat on 37.2 million acres. The most wheat produced in a year in the U.S. was 2.5 billion bushels in 1998 and in 2008. The states with the largest area planted to wheat in 2021 were:  Kansas (7.3 million acres), North Dakota (6.5 million acres), Montana (5.5 million acres), Texas (5.5 million acres) and Oklahoma (4.4 million acres). The average yield for wheat in the USA in 2021 was 44.3 bu per acre, with Arizona, California and Kentucky recording the highest yields.


There are seven major classes of wheat grown and marketed in the USA. These are: hard red winter, hard red spring, soft red winter, soft white, hard white winter, hard white spring and durum.  Each class has different end-uses, and their production tends to be region-specific (Table 1). Hard red winter and hard red spring wheat account for 60% of the total U.S. production. These classes are primarily used to produce flour that is used to make products that are made from raised doughs or that require high gluten strength. Soft red winter represents 23% of wheat production and is used in making cakes, crackers, and cookies. Soft white wheat accounts for 15% of the production and is used in noodles, crackers and cereal products. Hard white wheats (both spring and summer) are used in similar applications as hard red wheats, but in the market are offered a slight premium over red types as they have a slightly higher flour yield when milled and in whole wheat applications tend to be less bitter. Durum wheat is considered a premium class of wheat and is used to produce pasta.

Table 1. U.S. Wheat Classes.


2021 Production,
 in Bushels

Location Produced


Hard Red Winter

749 million

Great Plains (TX to MT)

Bread flour

Hard Red Spring

297 million

Northern Plains (ND, MT, MN, SD)

Bread flour and blending

Soft Red Winter

361 million

Eastern States

Cakes, cookies, crackers

Soft White

175 million


Flour for noodles, crackers, cereals

Hard White Winter

20 million


Bread flour

Hard White Spring

6 million


Bread flour and blending


37 million



Winter wheat types are sown in the fall and harvested the following summer.  Winter wheat emerges shortly after seeding and becomes dormant over the winter months and resumes growth in the spring.  Winter wheat is often planted to take advantage of fall moisture which ameliorates problems of limited spring and early summer moisture.  It also matures earlier than spring wheat, so it is less subject to extreme summer heat in southern climates.  Winter wheat tends to have a slightly higher yield potential than spring wheat in most years when grown in the same region. Approximately 65% of U.S. wheat production is winter wheat. Spring wheat is planted where cold winter weather often harms winter wheat and in regions where there is usually adequate spring and summer moisture.  The price premium over winter wheat is also an incentive to grow spring wheat in environments where spring wheat production is possible. Spring wheat is sown in the spring and harvested in the late summer or fall.

Prices and Demand

The price received by farmers for wheat varies considerably by year, class of wheat and its quality. Soft white wheat, hard spring wheat and durum tend to fetch a premium over other classes of wheat because of their more specialized uses. Test weight, protein content, falling numbers and the presence of deoxynivalenol (often referred to as DON or vomitoxin) can be used as a basis for premiums of discounts or in some cases the classification of the wheat that can only be sold feed wheat. Global demand for wheat and wheat products has been increasing due to population increases and rising incomes in many developing countries. Per capita wheat consumption in the USA, however, has been declining for more than a century.  In 1879, wheat flour consumption was 225 lb per capita.  Per capita consumption reached a low of 110 lb in 1972.  Consumption rebounded to 146 lb by 2000, as flour-based foods such as pizza became more popular and because of the advent of bread machines.  Over the past several years, however, per capita consumption of wheat flour has been decreasing as fad diets are encouraging an increasing percentage of the population to remove starches from their diet and due to concerns of gluten intolerance. In 2019 the average wheat flour consumption in the United States was 131.1 lb per capita.

Since 1981 planted acres of wheat in the USA has been steadily declining as farmers are adding diversity into their cropping systems and corn and soybean acres have expanded. Total production of wheat has declined with the decline in acres over this same period, but not at the same rate due to increases in yield through improved farming practices and the use of better performing varieties. Export of wheat from the USA is trending lower with only about 12% of wheat produced in the U.S. being exported in 2021. Nevertheless, the export market is still an important segment of the overall market for premium classes of wheat.

Value Added Opportunities

Wheat is generally marketed as a commodity, but a variety of value-added, niche markets exist.  Organic food grains are increasingly important to some consumers.  In addition, specialty wheat varieties (such as Khorasan) can be more palatable to those who have moderate allergies to wheat gluten.  Finally, protein levels in both winter and spring wheat are important for food processors.  In some years, high protein levels (especially in spring wheat) are often rewarded by substantial price premiums and there may be opportunity for premiums based on the variety grown.  Hard white wheats also tend to fetch a premium over their red counterparts, but in most cases a contract may be needed to enter this market.

Competitive Analyses

U.S. wheat acreage continues to be pressured by a variety of factors.  Increased demand for corn, resulting from expanding ethanol production, has caused some wheat acreage in the Upper Midwest to shift to corn.  On the other hand, world wheat prices are historically about 125% of the price of corn because wheat can be used for livestock feed.  Hence, increases in corn prices and reduced wheat acreages have had a positive impact on wheat prices.  The recent acreage changes in the United States have little impact on world prices given that U.S. wheat production is only about 6-7% of the world’s total and currently only around 12% of the world trade.  In addition, it appears that Eastern Europe is developing infrastructure that could make it a larger competitor in world wheat markets.  Whether institutions and property rights can also be developed commensurate with infrastructure improvements will likely be the deciding factor for growth in this region.

As wheat acreage has declined, exporters and export customers are increasingly concerned about securing future supplies.   Hence, three new unit train loading facilities are currently being constructed in north central Montana.  Coupled with the recent deregulation of the Canadian wheat marketing sector, it is likely that more Canadian wheat will be imported into the U.S. to take advantage of elevation and transportation logistics.

Finally, feed grain and soybean yields continue to increase because of new technologies – especially those related to genetic modification with respect to insects, disease, and weed control.  Because wheat tends to be used directly as a human food ingredient and because of consumer concerns about genetically modified food, there is less investment in genetic engineering and in breeding per se in wheat than in corn and soybeans.  Nonetheless, if yield increases and cost reductions within the U.S. wheat sector do not keep pace with production alternatives, the U.S wheat industry will likely continue to contract in the future.

Marketing and Production Information

Examples of Adding Value to Wheat Production