Wheat Culture

By: Clinton P. Hartmann

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: August 1, 1995

Wheat for grain is one of the state's most valuable cash crops, usually exceeded in value only by cotton lint, sorghum, and rice. Wheat pastures also provide considerable winter grazing for cattle. Wheat was first grown commercially in Texas near Sherman about 1833. The acreage expanded greatly in North Central and East Texas after 1850 due to the rapid settlement of the state and the introduction of the Mediterranean strain of wheat. In 1850 the wheat crop was less than 50,000 bushels, but by 1867 it reached 6,000,000 bushels with a market value of a dollar a bushel. At that time the crop was transported to market on ox wagons. Some planting was done by grain drills, and reaping machines were being used on most farms. Threshers could thresh and clean from 150 to 300 bushels a day. A major family-flour industry developed in the Fort Worth-Dallas-Sherman area between 1875 and 1900. In 1879 about 104,000 acres of wheat produced 1,224,000 bushels. In 1903 acreage had increased to 1,483,595 acres with a yield of 19,880,175 bushels. The 1930 crop from 3,457,000 acres was valued at $115,394,000.

The wheat industry in the state developed rapidly from 1920 to 1950 due to the introduction of new types of wheat, improved farm machinery, general agricultural expansion, the rise of wheat prices, and the decrease in cost of production. The top wheat-producing counties in 1950 were Ochiltree, Hansford, Deaf Smith, and Sherman. The leading varieties of wheat grown were Westar, Commanche, Wichita, Triumph, and Tenmarq. Throughout the 1950s wheat was almost totally a cash crop. Although it declined in importance as a food grain during this period, it still ranked third in crop value. In 1954, a crop of 30,894,000 bushels valued at over $67 million was produced on over 3,000,000 acres. Almost all Texas wheat grown during this time period was of the hard red winter class and grown primarily on the High Plains. One of the worst droughts in Texas history began in the winter of 1950 and continued throughout the decade. In 1955 a combination of extreme drought and infestation reduced the annual yield of wheat to only 14,326,000 bushels. Yields increased during the late 1950s, however, and the annual production for the period from 1954 to 1958 totaled 36,000,000 bushels. Texas wheat found a good market in the Northeast and was transported to that area by coastal shipping.

In 1961 Texas wheat acreage yielded 86,956,000 bushels, the third largest crop on record. In 1968 the crop of 84,150,000 bushels raised on 3,825,000 acres was valued at $106,029,000. The size and value of the crop decreased in 1969 and 1970, when a total of 54,408,000 bushels valued at $70,730,000 was harvested from 2,267,000 acres. Leading wheat-producing counties in the late 1960s and early 1970s were Carson, Castro, Deaf Smith, Floyd, Hansford, Hartley, Moore, Ochiltree, Parmer, Swisher, Sherman, and Wilbarger. Amarillo, Plainview, Lubbock, and Wichita Falls, as well as the Dallas-Fort Worth area, were the centers for more than seven large flour mills in the state. By the late 1970s more than half of the state acreage was being grown on the High Plains, and about half was irrigated. Most of the state's wheat during this time was of the hard red winter class. There was also some expansion of acreage in South Texas due to the development of varieties with improved disease resistance and the use of wheat for winter pasture there. In 1978 a total of 5.7 million acres was planted, and 2.7 million acres was harvested. The yield was twenty bushels per acre, for a total production of 54,000,000 bushels valued at $156,600,000. That year wheat ranked seventh in value out of all crops produced in the state.

Many farmers plant in September, graze and fatten their stock on the green wheat, and market their cattle in the later winter months. This allows the wheat to mature for harvest in June. Wheat is mechanically planted, cultivated, and harvested. Almost all wheat harvested for grain is used in some phase of the milling industry. The better quality hard red winter wheat is used in the production of commercial bakery flour. Lower grades and varieties of soft red winter wheat are used in family flours. Byproducts of milled wheat are used for feed. Though there has been a shift in the type of wheat planted in Texas since 1979, hard red winter wheat still predominates. In 1990 it comprised about 93 percent of the planted acreage. In 1982 Texas ranked fifth in the nation in wheat production. In 1990 wheat was planted on 6.7 million acres and harvested from 4.2 million acres. The yield of 31 bushels per acre produced 130.2 million bushels and sold for $358,050,000. Leading wheat producing counties in 1990 were Ochiltree, Wilbarger, Swisher, Hansford, Deaf Smith, Dallam, Randall, and Castro.

Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (Grain, Wheat).
  • Agriculture
  • Products (Plant)
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Clinton P. Hartmann, “Wheat Culture,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wheat-culture.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995