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Wheat is the basis of bread, staple of most white people, although so-called black bread is made from rye, which is mainly found to be cultivated in central Europe and Russia. Barley, oats and maize, though sometimes directly consumed by human beings, are largely used as feedstuff for animals.
Wheat and rice-contrast in farm economy. Rice and wheat are the world's two greatest cereal crops but they present a picture of contrasts in farm economy.
(a) The cultivation of wheat in the semi-arid lands of the U.S.S.R., U.S.A., Canada, Argentina and Australia is carried on under extensive conditions whereas rice cultivation in the monsoon lands of India, Bangladesh, Japan, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka etc. exemplifies intensive farming.
(b) The greater parts of wheat are grown in the thinly populated parts of the world but nearly 90% of rice is raised in the thickly peopled parts.
(c) Major wheat producing regions have cheap land but expensive labour. On the other hand, labour is cheap but land is dear in the rice-growing parts of the world.
(d) Wheat is cultivated on large fares usually of hundreds of acres in size. Rice cultivation is confined to fragmented non-contiguous lands.
(e) Wheat regions are characterized by high-yields per capita yet low yields per acre. Rice producing areas are marked by opposite traits.
(f) Wheat cultivation is based on machine, rice on manual labour.
(g) Wheat represents an aspect of commercial grain farming but rice stands out as a product of subsistence agriculture
(h) In the sphere of international trade wheat is the most important food grain whereas rice has practically no role to play as such.
(i) Wheat is very much prone to insect attacks in storage and quality deteriorates with the passage of time, but rice improves in quality and can withstand longer storage. Wheat price is, therefore, greatly dominated by the buyers but the seller has a great say in the market of rice.
(j) It has been estimated that nearly 10% of the world's land surface is suited to wheat cultivation, which has so far used only very little of available land. Therefore, wheat cultivation has a great possibility of further extension. But the present rice areas of the world evolved out of exhaustive search by man. Hence, further expansion of rice regions is at best doubtful.
(k) The geographical distribution of wheat exhibits a much greater environmental adaptability of the crop which rice does not.
Physical and economic conditions for wheat. Wheat is tolerant of considerable variation in temperature and rainfall. When it grows in the hot and fairly dry summer conditions of the temperate grasslands and in the hot dry Mediterranean lands it is called hard wheat, rich in protein and excellent for bread making. Wheat may be grown with a mean annual rainfall of less than 38.1 cm and under dry farming methods with as low a rainfall as 20.3 cm. Soft wheat is grown under moist summer conditions. Soft wheat is suitable for cakes and biscuits and is widely cultivated in western Europe. Though wheat is found to be cultivated in widely differing physical conditions, it thrives best in the regions with:
(a) a fairly stiff, preferably loamy and non-acid soils.
(b) Mild moist weather during germination and early growing season with a rainfall of 50 cm to 100 cm.
(c) A temperature of at least 16°C and bright sunshine for ripening.
(d) A frost-free growing period of approximately 100 days.
(e) Level or rolling lands to facilitate mechanized operations provided wheat is grown under extensive conditions.
So far as wheat farming is concerned economic factors are of no little consequence. Variation in economic conditions greatly affects the productivity. The factors, which have caused great expansion in wheat producing regions, are:
(a) Introduction of farm machinery like tractor, harvesters, winnowers, threshers, elevators etc.
(b) Adoption of scientific methods.
(c) Scientific treatment of seeds, such as vernalization.
(d) Improvement in transport.
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