June 3, 2005

Wheat - Part II


  (click photo for larger image)
Wheat farm sunrise



"Whether or not we succeed in pushing the rock up the hill, there is meaning in the journey, not in the hope that one time we'll be able to shed the rock forever and live in a perfect world. In the end, we stay the course in our everyday actions - shouldering the burden, working in community, speaking truth to power, and refusing to join forces with the pestilence."

Mary-Wynne Ashford, M.D.
"Staying the Course", an essay published in:
The Impossible Will Take a Little While - Basic Books - 2004


"More foods are made with wheat than any other cereal grain."

"Wonderful wheat. In American diets, wheat is the top grain. Not only is it the most plentiful - the wheat belt stretches over the middle of the United States and we export as much as we consume - it's one of the most versatile grains. What gives wheat its unique baking value is the protein gluten, the elastic substance that sticks together, allowing bread to rise and pasta to hold its shape during cooking."

Wheat is basic to feeding humans world wide. It is high in nutritional value and lends itself to use in a very wide variety of foods. It is plentiful and accessible for use world wide.

In the U.S., grains like corn and soybeans are fed to cattle which in turn are fed to humans. This chain of actions drives an enormous agricultural monoculture for cattle feed while eroding agricultural diversity and sustainability.

Wheat production has likewise fallen into a vicious cycle of intensified fertilization and irrigation along with plant breeding to drive yields to a maximum. Much of the world now depends on this high output monoculture approach for its basic nutrition. This kind of strict monoculture approach eventually depletes soils and water and makes crops vulnerable to changing climate patterns.

Wheat, being a grass, is adaptable to cross-breeding with similar native grasses to produce a prairie-like perennial plant with deep roots, climate hardiness and high nutrient grain. An approach of this type is under development at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. If such a program succeeds, it will contribute positively to land and water conservation and provide a revised crop model by which farmers may gain higher profits and sustain productivity for coming generations.

Web Link - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Web Link - FAO of UN - lists of information about wheat
Web Link - FAO of UN - publications about wheat

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"It's misleading, if not impossible, to rank grains. Their relative value depends on what nutrients you are looking for. Is one nutrient more important than another? Is fiber more important than protein? Maybe, if you're a senior citizen, but not if you're a child. Do you judge nutritional value by nutrients per ounce, or nutrients per calorie? When you see any rating system for food, take it with a grain of salt and remember that variety is an important key to healthy eating."

"In spite of these difficulties, we decided to give it a try and rate the twelve most common grains according to the following nutrients: protein, fiber, iron, zinc, folic acid, vitamin E, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and calcium. If you assign one point for each of these nutrients, the ratings come out as follows:"
Total Nutrient Points
(highest to lowest)

1. Amaranth
2. Rye
3. Oats
4. Wild rice
5. Millet
6. Barley
7. Quinoa
8. Buckwheat
9. Whole wheat
10. Brown rice
11. White rice
12. Corn

Fiber Content
(grams per serving)

1. Barley
2. Amaranth
3. Whole wheat
4. Rye
5. Buckwheat
6. Millet
7. Oats
8. Wild Rice
9. Quinoa
10. Corn
11. Brown Rice
12. White Rice

(grams per serving)

1. Amaranth
2. Oats
3. Rye
4. Wild rice
5. Millet
6. Quinoa
7. Barley
8. Whole wheat

9. Buckwheat
10. Corn
11. Brown Rice
12. White Rice

"Even though nutritionally amaranth would rank as the greatest grain, overall the top grain in our book is whole wheat. Even though other grains may have slightly more nutrients, wheat is a whole lot more useful in a whole lot more foods. Whole wheat comes out as top grain."

Web Link - about wheat -

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World Markets

Wheat is the most widely grown cereal crop in the world, with an ever increasing demand. It plays a fundamental role in food security, and a major challenge is to meet the additional requirements with new cultivars and improved cropping technologies.


World Production
Though North America has 53,027,660 acres (82,856 square miles) devoted to wheat production, its overall output ranks third in the world behind Asia and Europe. In these figures Asia includes China and Europe includes Russia, both large producers but also large importers.



"Wheat is one of the most important food sources in the developing world.

"Sustainable intensification of irrigated wheat requires an adequate and balanced use of inputs.


"Differences in grain prices throughout the world are the result of surplus or deficit production in various regions.

"In general, grain prices are lower in the inland producing regions and higher in grain-deficit, densely populated and port regions."


There are two kinds of price for wheat, the cash price that a farmer can get at a local grain elevator and the futures prices at commodity exchanges. One is the price today and the other is a guaranteed price at some future point; up to a year and a half in the future. Pricing is a combination of supply and demand and speculative investment forces.

For the most part farmers wish to sell some substantial part of their wheat soon after harvest to cover months of costs. It is perhaps becoming more common for farmers to "hedge" by participating in the wheat futures market. This can provide a way to "lock" a sale price some months into the future. If the cash price declines the futures may compensate for their losses in the cash market.

It has been reported in this newsletter before that "In 1929, prior to the market crash, the per bushel price (what the farmer could sell it for) was $3.50 for wheat ... On February 28, 2005 the market price of a bushel of wheat was $4.03..." One still wonders how or perhaps why small farm operations survive.

The futures market for wheat, as profiled below, is no less significant in the agriculture world than the stock market is for the business world.


Futures Markets

This is a wheat futures projection chart for 2005 U.S wheat published by CBOT (Chicago Board of Trade)

Here it is assumed that weather will be favorable and production will be increasing over that of 2004.

The graph above shows increasing production leading to decreasing commodity futures prices for the future months of 2005. If there were an unexpected heat wave next week which may reduce the output in the coming summer months the graph would change direction and futures prices would increase for the remaining months of 2005.

Wheat Futures Basics

The essence of a futures market is in its name. It involves a standardized contract to buy or sell a commodity, such as wheat, at a future delivery date as opposed to the present time. The volume of grain covered by a futures contract is specified in each contract. Both Chicago and Kansas City Board of Trade grain and oilseed futures contracts cover 5,000 bushels."

For example, if the wheat futures price for July wheat is $3 per bushel, an investment of $300 paid to purchase one July wheat futures contract will "control" the rights to 5000 bushels ($15,000) worth of wheat, a ration of 1:50.

If the July wheat futures price changes to $3.10 per bushel the next day, the new contract value is 5,000 bushels times $3.10 or $15,500 and thus the contract owner has made a $500 profit on a $300 investment. In the world of commodity trades the loss of value can be equally quick and dramatic.

Grain futures information resources

Web Link - Intro to Commodities - Penn. State Univ.
Web Link - Intro to Futures - Kansas State Department of Agriculture Economics
Web Link - Intro to futures - Texas Agricultural Extension Service - pdf
Web Link - Example of CBOT listing
Web Link - Infinity Futures Trading

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Wheat farm sunrise

Photos 2004

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Carl Honore

In Praise of Slowness

"On a crisp, spring morning, deep in the Wiltshire countryside, walking seems like the most natural thing in the world. Cattle grazing gently in the rolling green fields. Locals trot by on horseback. Birds swoop low above the dense woodlands. The hustle and bustle of city life seems a million miles away. As I stroll along a country lane, gravel scrunching underfoot. I can feel myself shifting down a gear or two, which is as it should be. I am here to learn how to slow down my mind.

"In the war against the cult of speed, the front line is inside our heads. Acceleration will remain our default setting until attitudes change. But changing what we think is just the beginning. If the Slow movement is really to take root, we have to go deeper. We have to change the way we think."

In Praise of Slowness
Chapter Five
Mind/Body: Mens Sana in Corpore Sano
HarperSanFrancisco 2004
Web Link - Book Review
Web Link - Book Description - HarperCollins

George Beggs 6/2005 - Feedback is welcome

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