Wheat accounts for 20 percent of calories consumed in the world, and the earth’s population is booming. Yet, acres of wheat in the U.S. – the world’s largest exporter – have been decreasing for 30 years. U.S. wheat is suffering from a lack of competitiveness.

Wheat plantings are about 30 percent lower than in the early 1980s, down from an average of 85 million acres to about 60 million acres in recent years. USDA’s Economic Research Service reports that wheat’s share of U.S. field crop receipts has fallen from about 20 percent in the 1980s to about 11 percent in recent years. Export growth is flat, planted acreage is declining, and domestic use has suffered declines. If these trends are not reversed, the wheat chain that relies on domestic sources of wheat will face supply challenges that will ultimately impact consumers.

20 Percent by 2018

One of NAWG’s four strategic initiatives is to work toward increasing wheat yields 20 percent by 2018 – just eight short years away. Achieving this goal is necessary to both maintain wheat’s competitiveness and ensure adequate supplies for the domestic wheat industry and our export partners. Many other organizations and leaders throughout the industry have adopted this goal, and these groups are working together to achieve it through adoption of new technologies, positive federal farm and trade policies and other means.

“Addressing the Competitiveness Crisis in Wheat”

In June 2006, four key wheat groups – NAWG, the North American Millers’ Association, U.S. Wheat Associates and the now-disbanded Wheat Export Trade Education Committee - released “Addressing the Competitiveness Crisis in Wheat”, the first paper outlining major competitiveness problems facing the U.S. wheat industry. This paper served as a launching point for the Wheat Summit process that followed.

Wheat Summits

NAWG and the North American Millers’ Association held the first Wheat Summit in September 2006 to allow representatives from different parts of the wheat value chain to interact and discuss common concerns. Attendees at this private meeting included representatives from every part of the industry, from producers to processors, transportation interests to grocery stores.

Attendees at the 2006 Summit agreed to form workgroups focused on technology and research; domestic competitiveness; domestic farm policy; and export markets. Proposals from each of the workgroups were presented at a second Summit meeting in April 2007. Majority opinions from that meeting are available here.

A third Wheat Summit was held in October 2009, and a fourth was held in April 2011. Both of these sessions focused on research and biotechnology, with attendees representing organizations from throughout the wheat chain. For more on those sessions, please see news stories from NAWG here and here.

“The Case for Biotech Wheat”

In September 2009, five wheat industry organizations released “The Case for Biotech Wheat,” an eight-page paper outlining the competitiveness problem facing global wheat production and the wheat industry itself. The paper follows up on the wheat chain’s 2006 paper and dives deep into why the competitiveness problem matters for the entire food chain – wheat growers, wheat users at home and abroad, and consumers in the industrialized and developing worlds.