Approaches and Strategies to sustain Wheat Yield in Changing Temperatures

by Mar 14, 2019blog

Can you imagine a world without wheat? If your eyes popped from just reading that statement, then you know how important wheat is. In many countries, like India, wheat is a staple food product and is the most consumed food crop in the world. To give you an estimate, over the past decade, approximately 620 million tons of wheat was produced over a land of over 220 million hectares in area. Despite this mass cultivation, wheat sees a shortage of supply as the population is increasing day by day, and this is becoming an issue for wheat production.

Wondering why? Because this means that in order to meet the world demand for wheat, production needs to increase by 1.6%. With factors like climate change, drought, and water shortage, increasing costs and so on, this production estimate might be a little challenging to achieve. And this is exactly what we will be looking at through this article. This article will give you a complete understanding of:

• Why has wheat become a highly consumed food crop

• Factors that affect wheat production
    – Climate Change
    – High costs
    – Increase in demand for bio fuel

• How to sustain wheat yield in changing temperatures

Why has wheat become a highly consumed food crop?

There used to be a time where people did not care much about what they ate. In fact, if it was tasty, it was good enough. But with the turn of time, people have grown to become very health conscious. Before making a purchase of any product like whole wheat flour, they take time to read the nutrition facts, find out if the item is gluten-free, contains vitamins and the list is never-ending. This is where wheat shines in all its glory. Wheat is considered to be one of the healthiest food crops available by health enthusiasts. It is, in essence, a dietary fibre rich in proteins as well as nutrients. As per the USDA National Nutrient Database, wheat is rich in mineral salts, calcium, potassium, Vitamins B and E among other necessary minerals. The below diagram depicts the nutrient content present in 100 grams of sprouted wheat.

Being rich in all the necessary nutrients, wheat provides the following health benefits to its consumers:

• Obesity Control: Though more prominently visible in women, a person who consumes wheat over long periods of time has been able to see considerable change in their body metabolism. This in effect has shown a gradual reduction in body weight, helping the consumer lead a healthy and comfortable life.

• A significant increase in energy levels: As mentioned earlier, wheat is a food crop rich in Vitamin B, and this vitamin is essential in regaining stamina and energy levels. Apart from this, the crop being rich in carbohydrates reduces hunger and need to eat for long periods of time, thereby increasing overall body energy and functionality.

• Prevents any type of metabolic ailments: There are so many types of metabolic disorders that people face at large such as visceral obesity, low levels of good cholesterol which leads to high blood pressure levels etc. are a few among the long list. These metabolism issues rise or get worse if proper food diet is not maintained. A research study proved that consuming wheat three times a day helps lower the risks associated with these metabolic ailments as well as lower BMI levels as well.

• Prevention of type 2 diabetes: Wheat is rich in magnesium which is very essential is stimulating glucose secretion and insulin in the body. These are the body enzymes required to reduce or control blood sugar levels. Therefore wheat has proven to help people control this ailment by replacing rice with wheat in their diets.

• Reduces the chance of heart attacks: Wheat is rich in a particular nutrient known as enterolactone, which is the most significant element to prevent your body from all types of heart diseases. This crop is rich in dietary fibre that helps in reducing blood pressure levels thereby reducing the chances of a heart attack. Therefore, doctors recommend a high intake of wheat and other whole grains to reduce the fat in the blood, which is another cause for heart attacks.

• Care of skin, eye and hair: Rich in selenium, Vitamin E and zinc, wheat helps to keep your skin nourished and protected again UV rays as well as acne. These minerals are also vital to maintain healthy hair as well as eye health. Overall a simple wheat crop can help you stay healthy, nourished and youthful.

These are just some health benefits of wheat provides its consumers with. From these very benefits, I am sure you will be able to understand exactly why wheat is becoming a popularly consumed and preferred food crop globally. Everyone loves to find out food items that can naturally cure any ailments, as no one prefers to take tablets anymore. Now that we have discussed the reasons for the growth in wheat consumption, we can now move on the understanding the factors that affect the mass production of wheat.

Factors that affect wheat production?

As mentioned earlier, in order to be able to meet the global necessity of wheat, production must increase by 1.6%. This seems challenging because, with the change in consumption patterns, there has also been a change in environmental factors, which affect the wheat production industry at large.

• Climate changes that affect wheat or for that matter any crop production are divided into two types, abiotic stress, and biotic stress.

It is important to understand what abiotic and biotic stresses are before understanding the current state of climate changes and their impact on the production of wheat.

o Abiotic Stress: this is what we define as any negative impact of non-living factors (such as climate, temperatures etc.) on living elements like plants and crops in any given environment. In simple words when elements like cold and hot temperatures, salinity and metal toxicity in the soil, drought and other climatic elements affect the production of a crop, it is called abiotic stress.

o Biotic Stress: this, on the other hand, is a result of the damage caused to the crop by living organisms like bacteria, pests, viruses and so on.

Both these stresses are very important because they affect wheat production at large. These are the two main categories that are posing cultivation houses with immense challenges, rendering it difficult to reach the demand requirement. The climate changes that are affecting wheat production are:

o Temperature: The optimum temperature required for wheat production is approximately 25°C with the minimum temperature dropping to 3°C to 4°C. The maximum temperatures that wheat can continue growing optimally are at 30°C to 32°C. This is being said, now days, production houses and farmers are facing extreme climatic temperatures which are making it difficult to sustain the growth of healthy wheat crops. These temperatures also affect the grain size as well as the protein quality. The crops die out under such extreme conditions and growing a fresh batch not only takes time but due to such harsh temperatures, the growth of a new set of crops is also not guaranteed.

o Drought: It is only natural for drought to occur in lands where the temperatures are too high and water is scarce. For the optimum growth of wheat, the land area needs to be well irrigated and requires a minimum of 375 mm to 875 mm of precipitation. With the current state of global warming, temperatures are rising and the levels of precipitation are extremely low, this leads to rising cases of drought across the globe. You can only imagine the rates at which the crops are dying.

o Rise in pests: The rise in temperatures makes the perfect breeding ground for pests. These biotic factors like pests, viruses, fungi etc. feed on growing wheat crops rendering them infected or incapable for consumption.

• High costs of inputs have a negative impact on the production of wheat. With the temperatures giving way for an increase in pests and lack of natural precipitation, producers need to tend to inputs such as fertilizers, chemicals, irrigation systems etc. These inputs come at very high prices making it very difficult for small/poor farmers to afford these. The changes in costs for energy lead to a rise in the price of producing ammonia, which thereby becomes the reason for high priced fertilizers. This is another major reason why wheat production is getting delayed across countries worldwide.

• Increase in demand for biofuel also adds to reducing the production capacity of wheat. I am sure you are wondering why? Well, on analysis of the reason for the food price spike in 2008, it was evident that the reason behind this was a high demand for biofuel and government policies in favour of this demand. Even today the impact of these two factors are very strong, which forces farmers to invest in producing high-energy value crops (for example soybeans, corn etc.) on the lands where wheat needs to be produced. This is another reason why today, wheat prices are increasing and the supply is not able to meet the demand.

These are the main factors that are affecting the wheat production industry and the effects of these factors are not imaginable. The main factor that affects the crop, however, is temperature. Rise or fall in temperatures has a negative impact on the production, and the inputs required to deal with these challenges are also expensive. So does this mean that is no way to reduce the adverse effects of temperature on wheat? Well, this brings us to the last portion of this article.

How to sustain wheat yield in changing temperatures?

Farmers and other production houses could indulge in undertaking the practice of conservation. Since there is a fall in water levels in the soil leading to high levels of soil erosion due to high temperature, conservation of soil and water practices can help in reducing the rates of erosion and retain the moistness of the soil. Adopting this technique will help the farmers increase their rates of yield by 2 to 15%, as now the soil will be able to restore its water-holding capacity.

Another technique that can be adopted by farmers is to increase their crop varieties and crop rotations. Some crops require more water while others require less. This practice followed by crop rotation will help reduce soil erosion and also help remove pests, weeds and other elements that affect the optimal growth of crops.

Other techniques that can be incorporated are using organic soil matter, using livestock wastes, installing windbreaks and so on. These techniques will prove to be helpful in reducing the adverse impacts of the temperatures and pests on the crops that are being cultivated.

To conclude this article, the truth is right now we cannot control global warming. Yes, everyone suggests ways to reduce the impact but truly how many of us follow them? Farmers who have invested their lives in wheat and other crop production are sometimes unable to fight the negative impacts of the climate, however, the government is slowly taking actions to help them. That being said, there are multiple ways to sustainably produce wheat and farmers are adopting such techniques in order to match demand and supply. Since wheat is now considered to be the power food by dieticians, maybe it is time to incorporate this power food into our diets.

Disclaimer – “Views expressed in the blogs, are exclusive thoughts of the author and are not necessarily
aligned to Samrat India’s policies”.