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The Worldwide Demand and Production of Wheat

A very interesting question came in regarding the production of wheat and specifically dealing with gluten. The question was (paraphrased); if people are turning away from wheat because of gluten-free diets, is the production of other grains increasing to make up for the lost wheat production?

The answer is rather interesting and it says a great deal about the culture in America.

The worldwide demand and production of wheat are steadily increasing. It isn’t dropping. In 2007, the worldwide production of wheat was about 606.7 million metric tons. In 2017, only 10 years later, the worldwide production was 771.7 million metric tons. That is a substantial increase and year by year, the production is going up. 

Europe, China, India, and Russia all produce much more wheat than the US does. So even though there was a decrease in wheat produced in the US from 2007 to 2017, that decrease was only about 7 million metric tons of wheat, which was easily offset by the production in other countries.

The production of rice, corn, rye, barley, and oats were also up, worldwide. However, none of these were even close to the increase in the production of wheat. 

None of this is surprising. About 1% of Americans are actually gluten intolerant and this percentage isn’t increasing. This percentage is probably about the same everywhere in the world. However, American’s have a predilection for self-diagnosis, so as many as 10-20% of Americans think they are gluten intolerant, even though they aren’t. Thus, the gluten-free diet isn’t much more than a fad in the US, but it does mean that there is a decrease in the demand for wheat in the US.

People in the rest of the world aren’t nearly as inclined to self-diagnose or to be taken in by fad diets, so the demand for when continues to increase throughout the world. 

Don’t get me wrong. For the 1% who actually are gluten intolerant, gluten really is a legitimate concern. That is true regardless of where in the world that they live. For people who really are gluten intolerant, though, there are alternatives, particularly rice, oats, and corn. However, it is primarily in the US that wheat production is down and rice, oats, and corn production is up a bit, even without an increased medical need for it.

  • Are you or anyone you personally know on a gluten-free diet?

    • Yes
    • No

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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8 Comments

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    • I know a few people like that, too. I don’t have issues with wheat or gluten, but as I get older, I’m finding that I’m having increased issues with onions, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. That is a pity since I really like all of those. A few years ago, we did switch over from white bread to whole wheat bread, though. Still, that was because of general health and not because of gluten intolerance.

    • For those who really are intolerant, it is serious. In a way, those who think they are intolerant but who really aren’t are sort of unfair to those who honestly are intolerant or allergic. Having problems with gluten is far less common than most people think.

  1. I know it hardly counts in terms of world statistics, but there has certainly been a lot of wheat production this year in the fields around my village in Leicestershire, as opposed to previous years when there seemed to be much more oil-seed rape being grown. I did wonder if this might be something to do with yields of the latter falling due to poor crop fertilisation because of there being fewer bees around.

    On the other hand, farmers have to plan their cropping several years in advance, and a major factor will be the price they expect to be able to get for their crops – if everyone is growing wheat, surely that would mean that the price they get would be lower?

    Wheat grown in the UK is usually devoted to flour-making for cake and biscuit production. We have to import the “strong” flour for breadmaking, and most of it comes from Canada.

    • I’m uncertain what the demand for wheat in the UK is doing. However, if the demand is rapidly increasing, it is possible that the price is going up or at least staying stable, even if production is increasing. I can’t speculate as to why demand would be increasing a lot in the UK. It would be interesting to investigate it further.

      I suspect…I don’t *know* because I haven’t looked into it…that a lot of the wheat you are seeing may be triticale. It looks like regular wheat, but it is a wheat-rye hybrid that was developed in Scotland (and Germany). Often, no distinction is made, statistically, between wheat and triticale, but the resulting flour does have different properties. I’d not thought of it as being ‘lighter’ or ‘weaker’ than regular wheat, but I kind of like that description.

      Here in the US, wheat is primarily grown in the midwest states and northward from there, into Canada. Despite that, a lot of wheat is grown in Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. There is a fairly large wheat field within 2 miles of my home. The soil is good and a field can produce a large amount of wheat if weather conditions are right.

      Where we lived at one time in Oregon, our house was between two large wheat fields, about 800 acres, altogether. I’m not sure where it was processed or what it was processed into.

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