The type of wheat produced in Illinois is soft red winter. It does not have the level of protein and gluten required for yeast breads. However, it is used in many other food products, especially as an ingredient where fine particulate flour is needed. Some of the uses are flat breads, cereals, cakes, cookies, pretzels, pastries, pancakes, crackers, biscuits, ice cream cones, part of all-purpose flour, batter and breading, wheat germ, etc. Some of its other uses include pet foods and glues.
Producing Wheat in Illinois
About 83 percent of Illinois’ wheat production was in the southern half of Illinois, from about Springfield south. Southern Illinois offers a longer growing season. This allows wheat to be harvested early enough that soybeans can be planted as a “double-crop” enterprise and still reach maturity before frost. The combined income from the wheat and double-cropped soybeans is competitive with either corn or soybeans alone in southern Illinois.
In addition to the income, producers like wheat because:
Risks are spread out with several different crops. Diversifying the crop rotation reduces pest problems. Labor and machinery needs are spread out. It provides income in June and July to pay spring bills. The ground cover over the winter lessens chance of soil erosion.It provides straw as a by-product. It serves as a “cover” crop when establishing a hay field.
Wheat is seeded in late September or early October in northern Illinois and in October in southern Illinois.
After initial fall growth, wheat is dormant throughout the winter. Growth resumes in late winter. About that time, growers apply nitrogen fertilizer to maximize production.
A little later, a herbicide may be applied to control wild garlic. Wheat begins to head about the first week in May. From that period to harvest, environmental conditions greatly affect the possibility of foliar diseases that can have a significant effect on yield. Harvest begins in the middle of June in southern Illinois and ends in early July in northern Illinois.
More than 100 years ago Illinois led the nation in the production of wheat. Wheat was sold for cash and it flourished in this climate. You can see that the long-term trend in acres harvested each year has been declining. With better yields, an adequate supply is now obtained from fewer acres. Also, corn was only raised to feed to livestock and soybeans were not discovered until modern times. Because of the rising demand for corn and soybeans after World War II, these crops have been displacing wheat on Illinois farms. It remains an important crop, but its rank is now third.