I. Botanical Information
Wheat is a plant found in the grass family, or Poaceae family, that is grown worldwide for a number of uses. It is a member of the triticum genus, and is an angiosperm, meaning that it is a seed-producing land plant that produces flowers. Wheat is a monocot, which implies that the plant contains only one cotyledon, or seed-leaf, as opposed to the dicots, which contain two leaves per embryonic seed. Modern wheat plants can be characterized as diploids, containing two sets of chromosomes, or polyploids, containing four or even six sets of chromosomes. Many of these polyploids are the result of genetic modification that has occurred in the past several decades. (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/641558/wheat)

Wheat Flower http://www.cas.vanderbilt.edu/bioimages/biohires/t/htrae--fl33568.JPG
Wheat "Berries" (the fruit of the wheat plant that is extracted)

II. Nutritional Value

Wheat is used in the production of many food products, including flour, breads, pastas, and cakes, as well as in the fermentation of alcohol. Its various uses and flexibility make wheat a staple food input in cultures throughout the world. Wheat that is consumed by humans is an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals, as well as protein. It contains large quantities of manganese, phosphorous, magnesium, and selenium, and is also rich in iron, zinc, potassium, and copper. Wheat also contains small amounts of calcium, and has a caloric value of 339 per 100 gm, which is very appropriate for a grain and makes wheat a rather filling food product. Many vitamins are abundant in wheat, such as vitamin B6, niacin, thiamin, folate, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid, with smaller amounts of vitamin E and vitamin K as well. (http://www.organicfacts.net/nutrition-facts/cereals/nutritional-value-of-wheat-and-barley.html)
The fat content in wheat products is low, which is beneficial for cholesterol levels. Wheat is also a great source of complex carbohydrates, about twenty-five percent of which is dietary fiber. Additionally, the protein found in wheat products is gluten, which constitutes about 20 to 25 percent of the caloric content. While these proteins are very beneficial to the body, they are not complete, and other foods are necessary to receive all eight essential amino acids. (http://www.livestrong.com/article/49707-nutritional-value-wheat/)
The health benefits associated with wheat are tremendous. The vitamins found in wheat products are advantageous for cellular respiration, disease prevention, and proper brain functionality, while its fat content allows consumers to maintain low cholesterol while receiving proper amounts of vitamins and minerals (http://www.livestrong.com/article/49707-nutritional-value-wheat/). Wheat is also beneficial for gastro-intestinal health, especially among women, it reduces the risk of high blood pressure, and it helps maintain a healthy metabolism (http://www.organicfacts.net/nutrition-facts/cereals/nutritional-value-of-wheat-and-barley.html).

III. Geographic History and Distribution
Wheat is one of the first known crops to have been domesticated by man. The wheat plant is believed to have originated in the region of Mesopotamia as early as 9,000 B.C. (http://www.agron.iastate.edu/courses/agron212/readings/oat_wheat_history.htm). It was also prevalently grown in the Nile River Delta in its early years of existence. Along with the expansion of human civilization, wheat production spread to lands outside of Mesopotamia and the Nile Delta as well, reaching every continent except for Antarctica. Wheat was first grown in the United States in 1602 on an island off the coast of Massachusetts, and has become a staple crop in American agriculture in the following years (http://www.agron.iastate.edu/courses/agron212/readings/oat_wheat_history.htm). It is now grown worldwide and is a staple food in cultures around the globe, and its expansion was made possible by its adaptation to various climates and soil conditions. In today’s market, the leading wheat producers are China, the European Union nations, India, and the United States. Nations in the Middle East and Southern Asia are also developing into major wheat producers as well, as global production of the crop is beginning to occur in various parts of the world. (http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/wheat/2011baseline.htm).

IV. Market Distribution
The various uses of wheat in breads, pasta, alcohol, and various other food products have allowed it to become one of the most widely produced and cultivated crops worldwide. Until recently, it was the most popular crop in the world in terms of cultivation area and production, but in the past two decades it has been overtaken by corn, which now ranks first, and rice, which is now second http://www.economist.com/node/5323362). Hybridization and genetic modification have actually limited the production of wheat, namely because it is a self-pollinating plant, and pre-determined selection of alleles is difficult to attain on a commercial level. This characteristic has allowed corn and rice to bypass wheat as the two most widely produced crops in the world. Nonetheless, wheat is still a staple crop throughout the world, and it is traded as a commodity on the Chicago Board of Trade, Kansas City Board of Trade, and the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, among others (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat). In the modern global economy, China is the leading producer of wheat, with other major players in the European Union, India, and the United States.
Global Distribution of Wheat Production http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_uO-z3Hs0Wko/Sjpwne-MV6I/AAAAAAAAABw/pKzW2N68kvA/s1600-h/Wheat_Map.bmp

V. Wild Card Topic: Supply & Demand Analysis
A. Supply
Wheat supply has been affected by a number of factors in recent years, but it nonetheless continues to increase yearly within the global economy. Over the past several decades, new health studies have led to more diversified diets that have steered away from wheat-based products and allowed for more nutrition from other sources (http://www.economist.com/node/5323362). In addition, the gains made by genetic modification in the corn and soybean industries have led more farmers, especially in the United States, to replace their wheat fields with these crops, which have proven to be more lucrative (http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/wheat/2011baseline.htm).

Despite these detriments, the worldwide wheat supply has actually increased in recent years, most notably due to the rise in new producers. These nations that are new to the wheat industry include Russia, Ukraine, and many other Middle-Eastern countries. This increased supply is also a result of the continued population growth that is occurring in many nations in the modern world, as farmers seek to keep up with this growth and reap the benefits of the need for nutrition of the world’s population. Therefore, wheat supply figures are projected to continue increasing over the next decade, as these new wheat producing nations contribute to the already immense wheat industry.
This figure shows the rise of many wheat-producing nations, especially in southern Asia http://www.resourceinvestor.com/News/2007/6/PublishingImages/USDA%20wheat.png

B. Demand
Wheat demand has experienced the same factors that have affected supply in recent years. For nearly 100 years, from about 1870 to 1970, wheat consumption per capita has decreased as a result of the reduction of manual labor trends as well as the diversification of modern diets. However, since the 1970’s, wheat has rebounded thanks to the recognition of its health benefits as well as marketing strategies by companies within the industry to promote wheat-based food products (http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/wheat/2011baseline.htm). Nonetheless, consumers have very recently turned towards alternative food sources other than wheat that contain fewer carbohydrates and are less fattening (http://www.economist.com/node/5323362). Additionally, higher flour extraction rates in the processing of flour in recent years means that fewer bushels of wheat are needed to produce the same amount of flour, which also lessens demand for wheat cultivation (http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/wheat/2011baseline.htm).

Despite these various factors that lessen the demand for wheat, analysts predict that worldwide demand will continue to climb in the next decade as a result of several factors. Wheat is still used in livestock feed in many areas throughout the world, and although corn is becoming more popular in that respect, wheat maintains its position as an important livestock food product (http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/wheat/2011baseline.htm). Additionally, rising incomes in developing areas such as Southern Asia, the Middle East, and Africa will likely lead to a shift from rice-based diets to wheat-based diets in these areas. This shift will contribute immensely to an increased demand for wheat production worldwide. Also, population increases in many of these same areas will have a similar effect, as nations will have to import more food products to feed these increasing populations (http://www.bls.gov/opub/focus/volume1_number13/ipp_1_13.pdf).

Current and Projected World Population Growth http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange2/current/lectures/human_pop/fig5small.gif

Lastly, wheat’s use in the production in ethanol is expected to remain steady over the next decade, as ethanol continues to be an important substance in the modern economy. These factors all contribute to wheat’s high demand in today’s global economy, and these trends are projected to continue over the next several years in the form of increased demand for wheat.

Works Cited:
Allyson, D. What is the Nutritional Value of Wheat? Accessed July 21, 2011. http://www.livestrong.com/article/49707-nutritional-value-wheat/
Ears of Plenty: The Story of Man’s Staple Food. “The Economist” Newspaper Webpage. Published December 20, 2005. Accessed July 23, 2011. http://www.economist.com/node/5323362
Gibson, L., & Benson, G. Origin, History, and Uses of Oat and Wheat. January 2002. Accessed July 22, 2011. http://www.agron.iastate.edu/courses/agron212/readings/oat_wheat_history.htm
Nutritional Value of Wheat and Barley. “Organic Facts” Website Entry. Accessed July 21, 2011. http://www.organicfacts.net/nutrition-facts/cereals/nutritional-value-of-wheat-and-barley.html
The Nutritional Value of Wheat. Posted May 22, 2009. Accessed July 21, 2011. http://www.scribd.com/doc/15709126/The-Nutritional-Value-of-Wheat
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2010. Focus on Prices and Spending: Import and Export Prices, Fourth Quarter 2010. Washington, D.C.: Byrne, J., & Bennion E. Accessed on July 23, 2011. http://www.bls.gov/opub/focus/volume1_number13/ipp_1_13.pdf
Vocke, G., & Allen, E. United States Department of Agriculture: Economic Research Service. Wheat: Market Outlook. Accessed July 23, 2011. http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/wheat/2011baseline.htm
Wheat. Encyclopedia Britannica Entry. Accessed July 20, 2011. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/641558/wheat
Wheat. Wikipedia Entry. Accessed July 20, 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat