Issue 46
June 2002

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Prairie Grains is the official publication of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers, North Dakota Grain Growers Association and South Dakota Wheat, Inc.

Copyright Prairie Grains Magazine June 2002

Wheat Industry Yields Rich History

By David Boehm, Tracy Sayler

Agriculture has long been the primary industry of the Northern Plains and within this, wheat continues as a primary crop. Wheat is grown on more land area worldwide than any other crop, and is a close third to rice and corn in total world production. Wheat is well adapted to harsh environments, and is mostly grown on wind swept areas that are too dry and too cold for the more tropically inclined rice and corn, which do best at intermediate temperature levels.

Growers in the northern region of Dakota Territory produced 1,000 bushels of wheat in 1860, and 170,000 bushels just ten years later in 1870.  In 2001, wheat farmers in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana produced 443.8 million bushels of hard red spring wheat (HRSW). 

Wheat production in North Dakota started around 1812 near Pembina, for the Selkirk colony of present day Winnipeg, Man. Seed was broadcast, cultivated with a hoe, and harvested with a sickle.  After threshing, wheat seed was stored in woven baskets or bags and delivered to market in wagons.  In the mid-19th century, wheat farming became easier with the invention of the McCormick reaper (1831), steel plow (1837), treadmill thresher (1840), and the gravity-feed grain drill and steam powered thresher (1860). 

The Homestead Act of 1862 and the pushing westward of the railroads hastened the arrival of settlers, followed by the expansion of farming and crop production. In 1825-1830, competition with more western farm areas began to force New England farmers out of wheat and meat production into dairy, vegetables, and tobacco.  By 1840, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio were the chief wheat states; between 1844 and 1855, commercial wheat and corn belts began to develop. 

Wheat occupied newer and cheaper land west of corn areas, and was constantly being forced westward by rising land values and the encroachment of corn production. From 1860 to 1865, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois were the chief wheat states; then from 1870 to 1885 the wheat belt began to move across the Mississippi River. Between 1910 and 1920, grain production had reached into the most arid sections of the Plains.

As immigrants settled the Plains in the late 1880s, they took wheat seed with them, and varieties were often named after the immigrant who brought the seed, such as Fife.  Genetic improvements of wheat by breeding began to take shape in the late 19th century. The first wheat cross was made in Ontario, Canada in 1885. In 1889, progeny of these crosses, along with Fife and Blue Stem wheats, were evaluated near Glyndon, MN and Fargo, ND.  Researchers and professors at the North Dakota Agricultural College (NDAC), later renamed North Dakota State University (NDSU), made their first wheat crosses in 1892.

Bonanza Farms
The 1870s and 80s produced rapid expansion of railway lines leading to more land settlement, community development, and the “bonanza farms” of 1878 to 1885. People selling land in the fertile Red River Valley coined the “bonanza farm” phrase to imply a lucky strike—a get rich quick opportunity for those willing to take a chance. One reason for this was the world-wide demand for number one hard spring wheat. Its hardness and high protein content made for the finest bread and pastry products the world had seen. However, until the 1870’s, millers had problems with this spring wheat due to its hardness. It had a reputation of ruining the rollers used to grind wheat. Millers discounted the price of hard number one, making it a wheat not worth growing.

Then one year in the Minnesota town of St. Anthony Falls, a process of grinding wheat with ceramic rollers was developed. It was called “The Minnesota Process,” and these mills had no problem grinding the harder spring wheat grain. Therefore, mills using this process could give hard number one a premium price. Suddenly, spring wheat became highly coveted, along with land that could grow it.

In 1874, Cass-Cheney became one of the first bonanza farms, with 13,000 acres in the heart of the Valley. Hired to run the operation was Oliver Dalrymple. Dalrymple had previously owned a very large farm himself in southern Minnesota, a 3,000 acre operation that fell on hard times due to speculation on the grain market. Despite the failure of that farm, Dalrymple had a reputation of getting things done. He was called the “Minnesota Wheat King,” and now without a farm, he was offered the position of Cass-Cheney farm manager on a combined salary and commission basis.

Dalrymple quickly turned a profit for the Cass-Cheney farm, and with the earnings from his success started up his own bonanza farm operation. By 1896, Dalrymple had acquired 50% of the original bonanza operation. 

Skyrocketing prices for hard number one spring wheat and word of Oliver Dalrymple’s farming success quickly led to the ushering in of many other bonanza farm operations throughout the Red River Valley. It’s estimated there were 91 different bonanza farms in operation up and down the Red River Valley and further west along the Northern Pacific’s rail line. Near Oliver Dalrymple’s operation west of Fargo was the Amenia and Sharon Land Company; a farm of 42,000 acres owned by 40 stockholders from New England. To the north was the Grandin Brothers Farm, a huge operation which owned 75,000 acres of land and its own steamboat fleet for shipping grain. On the southern end was the Dwight Farm, where 60,000 acres of land were supervised by John Miller, the man who would go on to become the first governor of the state of North Dakota.

The ushering in of the twentieth century began the decline of the bonanza farm era. Years of exclusive wheat farming had taken its toll on the land. Yields were down. Disease and insects up. Wild swings in the market place had also taken a toll. To top things off, many settlers believed the bonanza farms’ dependence on transient labor only helped to increase crime and lower the quality of life.

Most bonanza farm owners never viewed their farming operations as a long-term investment in the first place. As long as wheat farming made them money, they stuck with it. As land values went down though and the price of grain dropped, most bonanza farmers found it to be more profitable to sell or rent their land to smaller farmers. By the 1920’s, most remnants of the bonanza farm era were gone. Land was parceled out. Buildings were sold off and torn down. With no ceremony or celebration, the end of an era had quietly ended.

“Macaroni Wheat”
Durum wheat (often referred to early on as “macaroni wheat”) was first grown commercially in the U.S. in the early 1900s, from seed of varieties from the Mediterranean area and south Russia, and was known as Red Durum. Production increased rapidly until the U.S. became a durum wheat exporter.  But these original varieties had a serious defect—susceptibility to rust.  In some years farmers had excellent yields, in other years they lost nearly the entire crop to rust disease.

During the 1960s, durum production underwent a revolution, with new disease-resistant varieties developed with more desirable color and cooking quality. The first of these new amber durums to be produced extensively were named Langdon and Ramsey. Two better varieties, Wells and Lakota, were released in 1960. For the first time since the 1920s, durum producers had a dependable supply for export.

Durum wheat was grown in Ransom County, ND in 1882 with production expanding in 1910. Langdon, ND was the original site of the durum breeding program in 1929, and was moved to NDAC, Fargo in 1933. Eighty-five percent of the U.S. durum crop is produced in ND and NDSU cultivars compose nearly all U.S. durum production.

Wheat Industry Progress
The United States Department of Agriculture began HRSW quality tests in 1893.  NDSU performed milling and baking evaluations in 1905, and durum pasta quality tests in 1929.

Prior to 1916, wheat was marketed on a subjective basis of wet or dry, clean or dirty, good or bad quality, and so on.  Often to the disadvantage of the producer, this practice led to the creation of the ND State Mill in 1919 by the N.D. Legislature to mill and market some of North Dakota’s wheat and flour. The ND State Mill remains the only state-owned and operated flour mill in the United States. The U.S. Grain Standards Act passed by Congress in 1916 created precise terms to describe wheat quality and classification and with revisions is still used today.

Wheat production was greatly enhanced in the 1940s and early 50s with the use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, as well as motorized farm equipment. The broadleaf herbicide 2,4-D was introduced in 1945 to control wild mustard, and wild oats and other grass weeds were controlled with the advent of grass herbicides in the 1960s. 

The Great Soviet Grain Purchase
About 50% of the wheat produced in the Northern Plains region is exported to foreign countries through Portland, Ore., Duluth, Minn. and the St. Lawrence Seaway, or Minneapolis and the Mississippi River.

One of the most renowned wheat export purchases ever occurred late summer of 1972, when in a period of about a month, the Soviet Union bought 411.5 million bushels of wheat and about 433 million bushels of corn and other feed grains, the largest commercial transactions between two countries in history, worth in excess of $1.25 billion. 

Futures prices the next year rose close to $6 for wheat, and $9 for durum. Some government officials proposed export controls, which U.S. wheat leaders vehemently opposed, as it would prove disastrous to the U.S. reputation as a reliable wheat supplier as stocks normalized.  Nevertheless, the U.S. government, bowing to consumer cries, stepped into the market to assure that not all available supplies would be exported.  A monitoring program for export sales was implemented, and larger sales became subject to prior approval. The government also requested exporting firms to suspend some sales.

Markets reacted and prices began to fall, but not solely due to government intervention.  An economic recession over much of the world, along with belt-tightening measures in importing countries due to rising petroleum prices, also affected demand.  An expected buildup in wheat carryover, with good crop prospects, also affected the market. Still, the U.S. reputation as a reliable grain supplier was tarnished, and other countries with exportable surpluses became more competitive.

Wheat Breeding Advancements
The 1950s brought a stem rust epidemic, and with it, a research emphasis on breeding wheat for rust resistance which proved to be successful. The next revolution in plant breeding began with the 1970s discovery of how to view and change a plant’s structure at the molecular level, rather than selecting chance variants from among tens of thousands of plant crosses. Still, the goals of wheat improvement are much the same as a century ago: high yield, good baking characteristics, disease resistance, and the ability to stand up until harvested. Growers contribute to the research efforts through the wheat checkoff.

In the 1990s through today, much has been learned about the genetics and conventional breeding of wheat, and improvements are being made through biotechnology and genetic engineering. Researchers have been able to locate genes of interest such as disease and insect resistance, agronomic traits, and end-use traits such as bread and noodle quality.

A growing area of interest is in the production of hard white spring wheat (HWSW) for North Dakota. The lighter bran color has advantages for Asian noodles and also has led to an increase in interest for domestic breads.  Argent, released in 1998, is the first HWSW cultivar to be released by NDSU.

Public wheat geneticists, plant pathologists, entomologists, small grain breeders, and cereal chemists today conduct research more as a collaborative team, and often work cooperatively with crop scientists in other states and other countries. A good example of this collaboration is the effort to control Fusarium Head Blight.  Commonly known as scab, this is a fungal disease that has had devastating effects on wheat and barley crops in the Northern Plains, with economic losses estimated in the billions. Breeders and researchers have been searching for cultural controls and genetic resistance.  Alsen, released in 2000 by NDSU, is the first HRSW cultivar that has genetic resistance to scab, with sound agronomic and quality characteristics as well.

Information in this article was provided in part by retired NDSU Professor of Plant Sciences, Dr. Jack Carter, from a historical review and exhibit assembled in 1989, sponsored by the North Dakota Wheat Commission. Also, from the paper “History and Origin of Wheat,” by Lance Gibson and Garren Benson, Iowa State University;  “Kernels and Chaff, A History of Wheat Marketing Development,” by Marx Koehnke; and from the Prairie Public Television special “Bonanza Farms: Prairie Giants of the Northern Plains.” A link to this and other topical agricultural features by Prairie Public can be found online at www.prairiepublic.org/topic/agriculture.htm


A Chronology Key Events in the History of Wheat and Agriculture

6700 B.C. to 3000 B.C.

6700 B.C. -- Carbonized remains of wheat grains and imprints of grain in baked clay have been found dating back to this period in Northern Iraq.  The cultivation of primitive wheat is thought to have begun in western Asia between 6000 and 8000 B.C., and perhaps earlier.

3000-4000 B.C. -- Common bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) is believed to have originated within the area covered by modern man and became the principal wheat grown in western Asia and Europe, also spreading beyond India into China.

1400 to 1800

1493 -- On his second voyage to the Americas, Columbus brought wheat seed from Spain.

1582 -- Spanish wheat introduced at missions in the Big Bend area of what is now Texas.

1602 -- Wheat grown on an island off the Massachusetts coast, marking the beginning of wheat production on the East Coast of the U.S.

1701 -- The seed drill is invented by Englishman Jethro Tull.

1769 -- Scotsman James Watt patented an improved steam engine. Steam technology later led to the development of powered farm machinery. Horsepower comparisons can be traced back to Watt. To justify a premium price, he compared his machine to a horse. Watt calculated that a horse exerted a pull of 180 lb., therefore, when he made a machine, he described its power in relation to a horse, i.e. “a 20 horse-power engine.” Watt worked out how much a buyer would save by using his machine rather than a team of horses.

1801 to 1900

1834 -- American Cyrus McCormick patented the first practical grain reaper, a horse-drawn machine that mechanically combined all the steps that earlier harvesting machines had performed separately.

1837 -- American John Deere began developing and marketing the world’s first self-polishing cast steel plow.

1843 -- Considered by many to be the founding fathers of agricultural sciences, Sir John Lawes and Sir Henry Gilbert began a 57-year partnership at the Rotham-sted, England Experimental Station, the oldest agricultural research station in the world. Research conducted here produced a wealth of new ideas and facts, and established the principles of crop nutrition. Classical crop growing experiments and research laid the groundwork for the design of agricultural experiments.

1841 -- One of the earliest spring wheat varieties grown in the Northern Plains began with a Scotsman named David Fife, who immigrated to the province of Ontario, Canada about 20 years earlier with his family.  He obtained a sample of wheat from a Glasgow (Scotland) grain store.  A half bushel was produced from this original sample; a beardless, high-yielding red wheat producing flour of excellent quality.  From this beginning, production spread westward in Canada into Manitoba.  Trading of grain seed in the Red River Valley soon saw planting of Red Fife (also referred to as Galacian, or Fife)  in North Dakota and Minnesota. 

1859 -- Minnesota’s first shipment of spring wheat is warmly received in Chicago, marking the start of an agricultural export that will become King Wheat in coming years. Production grows wildly as railroads connect farms to inland markets. “Minnesota or that part of it known as Cottage Grove (between what is now St. Paul and Hastings) has gone to wheat. Men work in wheat all day when it does not rain, lounge round talking about wheat when it is wet, dream about wheat at night, and I fear go to meeting Sabbath Day to think about wheat.” -Rev. George Biscoe, in a letter to his sister, August 21, 1862

1862 -- U.S. Department of Agriculture set up without Cabinet status.

1878-85 -- Many railroad lines are established in the Northern Plains.

1878 -- Rust, a parasite growing on barberry bushes brought west by settlers, severely damages wheat crops. Epidemics occur again in 1904 and 1916 before Minnesota outlaws barberry bushes in 1918. The problem is eradicated over the next decades through the efforts of “barberry bees,” organized to dig up bushes, “rust busters clubs” in schools, and bounties paid for reporting barberry in the 1940s. 

1880 -- Minnesota wheat and the power of St. Anthony Falls make Minneapolis the nation’s capital of flour milling. A year later, Pillsbury’s new A Mill is the largest flour mill in the world.

1881 -- The Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce – later renamed as the Minneapolis Grain Exchange – was organized to promote fair trade of wheat, corn and oats between growers and millers. Today, the MGE is the world’s largest cash market for a variety of grains, trading an average of one million bushels daily

1887 -- Eureka, S.D. becomes one of the largest grain-shipping points in the world, with 18 elevators and grain warehouses. For 15 years, from 1887 to 1902, this “end of track” town was the largest primary wheat market (the first place wheat changes hands after it leaves the farmer’s fields) in the world, claim historians. In 1897 alone, two thirds of the world’s wheat crop entering the commercial market was shipped from Eureka.

1889 -- U.S. Department of Agriculture raised to Cabinet status.

1889 -- Research to improve wheat began at the University of Minnesota, when plant breeders and a cereal chemist first evaluated wheat varieties from Minnesota, Hungary and other parts of Europe, Russia, and Canada.

1880s -- An Austrian scientist and monk, Gregor Mendel discovered the basic principles of heredity through carefully controlled experiments in cross breeding. His work paved the way for improving crops through genetics.

1890s -- The combine harvester, which combined the cutting and threshing of grain crops, came into widespread use in the U.S., reducing the amount of labor needed to harvest a field of wheat by more than 80%.  Separators were generally not equipped with their own power and were usually driven by means of a wide rubber belt. Originally, these belts were driven by a treadmill walked by horses or oxen. By the 1890s, most threshing machines were driven by a steam engine, and by 1915, lighter and easier to maintain gasoline tractors were beginning to appear on the prairies.  While many improvements were made to the tractors that drove the threshing machine, the separator itself remained largely unchanged until the appearance of the combination harvester (combine) in the late 1920s, which could both cut and thresh at the same time. The combine did not, however, make the portable threshing mill obsolete and many remained in use through the 1940s.

1892 -- John Froelich of Iowa built the first gasoline tractor. It was a one cylinder tractor with forward and reverse. More efficient and less cumbersome than steam-powered tractors, gasoline and diesel tractors gradually became the main agricultural “workhorse” in many parts of the world. Froelich and others formed the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company, which manufactured the Waterloo Boy tractors starting in 1914. The Waterloo Company was purchased by John Deere in 1918 and became the John Deere Tractor Company.

1887 -- Hatch Act establishes state agricultural experiment stations.

1892 -- Plot #2 is established at the NDAC (NDSU) to study the effects of continuous cropping to hard red spring wheat.  It continues today, and is the oldest such plot in the U.S.

1898 -- Over 60 flour mills are operating in N.D.

1893 -- J.H. Sheppard became an agriculturalist with the North Dakota Agricultural College and the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. His great love was livestock, although he did make wheat crosses, and was particularly interested in developing durum, since this new type of “macaroni” wheat had promise to be successfully grown in the western and drier areas of the state.

1895 -- Preston is the first hard red spring wheat variety to be released by the U of M.

1899 -- The record high for planted wheat acreage in Minnesota, at 6.375 million (1.867 mil acres planted in 2001).

1901 to 1950

1901 -- USDA cerealist M.A. Carleton became the first durum breeder at the NDAC (NDSU).

1903 -- Marquis is developed by Charles Sanders of the Central Experiment Station in Ottawa, Canada.  The rust-resistant Canadian variety soon became the leading hard red spring wheat grown in the Northern Plains, and helped establish the Canadian wheat industry.

1914 -- Smith-Lever Act establishes Agricultural Extension Service.

1915 -- Lawrence Root Waldron became the first plant breeder at the North Dakota Agricultural College. L.R. Waldron was the younger brother of botanist C.B. Waldron, the first NDAC faculty member. One of Waldron’s first wheat varieties was Kota, a durum/spring wheat cross taken from the word Dakota.  Waldron later crossed Kota with Marquis to develop Ceres, one of the first spring wheat hybrids.

1916 -- U.S. Grain Standards Act establishes official U.S. grain standards used to measure and describe grain at the time of inspection.

1917 -- Mindum and Spelmar become the only durum wheat varieties to be released by the U of M, which released Minhardi, its only soft red winter wheat variety, in 1920.

1919 -- ND State Mill produced first flour in 1922.

1919 -- Power take-off developed for tractors.

1922 -- Grain Futures Act adopted by Congress to reduce or eliminate “sudden or unreasonable fluctuations” in the prices of grain on futures exchanges. The framers of the act believed that such price fluctuations reflected the susceptibility of grain futures to manipulation.

1926 -- Oregon became the first state to form an organization, the Eastern Oregon Wheat League, focused on wheat improvement. A more formal organization supported by a wheat checkoff was established in Oregon in 1946.

1928 -- The U of M released Marquillo, the first stem rust resistant spring wheat variety, but its flour was dark and was not accepted by the milling industry.

1933 -- Congress enacts the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the New Deal initiative to assist the farm sector during the Great Depression. It was the first comprehensive federal effort to raise and stabilize farm prices and income.

1935 -- First use of rubber tires on tractors.

1938 -- Agricultural Adjustment Act provided acreage allotments and quotas, price-supporting loans, regional research laboratories, and federal crop insurance

1943/44 -- During World War II, the U.S. was a net importer of wheat and feed grains, with domestic consumption/demand exceeding domestic production.  Net imports during 1943/44 were 91 million bushels, and large quantities were also imported the following year.  This was the only period in which there were net imports since the drought years of 1934-36.  The 1950s, spurred in part by farm mechanization, witnessed a rapid transformation from one of acute shortage to burdensome surpluses.

1945 -- 2,4-D herbicide developed to control broadleaf weeds.

1947 -- The first true electronic computer is made. Early computers were very large, filling several rooms with vacuum tubes and large magnetic drums. Computers now affect almost every area of science and technology, including agriculture.

The first International Wheat Agreement (IWA) was signed and ratified by four exporting and 38 importing countries. This agreement set the maximum price for wheat at $1.80 U.S. per bushel.  Other IWAs would be established, laying the groundwork for later trade negotiation under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

 1950 -- The National Association of Wheat Growers is organized, with Herbert Clutter of Holcom, Kansas serving as the group’s first president.  Sadly, Clutter and his family were murdered in 1959. The two killers were sent to the gallows five years later.  Truman Capote wrote a book on the tragedy, “In Cold Blood,” which became the author’s most famous work and created a new literary genre—the non-fiction novel.

1950 -- A new rust strain, 15-B, resulted in another stem rust epidemic in the 1950s, and Northern Plains wheat researchers focused their attention on breeding stem rust resistance. In 1955 the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station took the unprecedented step of simultaneously releasing four resistant durum varieties: Langdon, Yuma, Ramsey, and Towner. Lee, a hard red spring wheat, was released cooperatively with the Minnesota station. Selkirk, a resistant HRSW from Manitoba, was released in 1956. By that time sufficient quantities of resistant, agronomically suitable and adequately yielding varieties were being grown that 15B faded away as a problem.

1951 to Present

1956 -- The Nebraska Wheat Commission signed a program agreement with the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service to host two trade teams from Europe, one from Italy and the other from Greece.  It was one of the first such activities focused on American wheat export promotion.  Kansas and Oklahoma farm groups also funded the effort. The trade teams visited segments of the wheat industry in the three states, including wheat farms, elevators, mills, bakeries, and research labs. The visit later led to wheat purchases.

1957 -- U.S. Durum Growers Association organized.

1958 -- Funded by Great Plains wheat groups, the first foreign office focused on American wheat export promotion opened in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, considered one of the most strategic locations in Europe.

1959 -- Great Plains Wheat Market Development Association (later shortened to Great Plains Wheat) is formed for greater regional cooperation of Great Plains wheat promotion. A coalition of Pacific northwest states form a separate Western Wheat Associates to promote wheat produced in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington.

1959 -- The North Dakota Wheat Commission is organized.

1960 -- South Dakota Wheat Inc. is organized.

1960 -- Self-propelled combines and swathers, grain dryers for on-farm use.

1960-61 -- Herbicides developed to control wild oats and other grasses in wheat.

1961 -- The South Dakota Wheat Commission is organized.

1963 -- A federal wheat marketing quota system is rejected in a national farmer referendum, failing to achieve a two-thirds majority vote required for passage. Under the measure, wheat produced within marketing allotments would have been supported, getting between 75% and 90% of “parity.” Excess production would have received low supports.

1967 -- ND Wheat Producers Inc. organized.

1969 -- Waldron wheat released by NDSU.  It would soon be grown on more acres than any other HRS variety in N.D. history.

1970 -- Seven national farm organizations—the NAWG, National Grange, National Farmers Union, Durum Growers of the U.S., National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Farmer’s Organization and Mid-Continent Farmers Association, form the National Wheat Institute to carry out research and promotion to expand domestic markets for wheat. The Institute is terminated in 1978 after program funding runs out.

1970 -- Era, released by the U of M, became the first semi-dwarf spring wheat released by a public institution. Semi-dwarfs are short and less likely to fall over before harvest, and growing energy is directed to the grain rather than leaves and stem.

1970 -- U of M alumnus Norman Borlaug is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for leading the “Green Revolution,” which increased food production in numerous developing countries. Borlaug’s research focused on a dwarf wheat that had a high yield and was adaptable to many climates. The Green Revolution began with Mexico, which in 1944 was importing half its wheat.  By 1956, Mexico was self sufficient in wheat production.

1972 -- The great Soviet Union grain purchase.

1973 -- The Wheat Foods Council is organized by state wheat groups to coordinate and broaden domestic wheat consumption and promotion activities.

1973 -- Stanley Cohen, associate professor of medicine at Stanford University, and Herbert Boyer, biochemist and genetic engineer at the University of California at San Francisco, discover recombinant DNA technology, considered to be the birth of modern biotechnology.

1976 -- Roughrider is the first hard red winter wheat variety developed at NDSU.

1977 -- Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers organized.

1978 -- Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council is formed.

1979 -- Western Wheat Associates and Great Plains Wheat merge to become U.S. Wheat Associates.  J. Ole Sampson of North Dakota is elected chairman.

1979 -- President Carter imposes food embargo on the Soviet Union following its invasion of Afghanistan.

1981 -- All wheat production in the U.S. peaks at 2.78 billion bushels produced from 88.25 million planted acres.   To compare, 59.61 million acres of wheat were planted in the U.S. in 2001, with production at 1.95 billion bushels.

1982 -- The first genetically engineered product, human insulin, is approved for sale in U.S.

1983 -- Northern Crops Institute established at NDSU to teach the world food industry how to purchase, process and use the crops of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana.

1983 -- USDA Secretary John Block implemented a payment-in-kind (PIK) program to rid the government of surplus grain, resulting in the third-largest acreage reduction ever.

1985 -- The record for wheat production in Minnesota, at 142.4 million bushels (79.6 mil bu in 2001).

1985 -- The 1985 Food Security Act (Farm Bill) authorizes the Conservation Reserve Program.

The Export Enhancement Program is created to help “level the playing field” in global areas where American ag exports face subsidized competition. The program has not been used on wheat since 1995.

1988 -- Worst drought in 50 years sweeps the U.S.

1989 -- North Dakota Wheat Producers merges with the North Dakota Barley Growers Association to form the North Dakota Grain Growers Association.

1989 -- The Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement went into effect on January 1, and has been a source of cross-border wheat and barley trade contention ever since.

1990 -- Farm Bill set in motion planting flexibility, which expanded greatly in 1996 with the Freedom to Farm Act.

1990s -- Freer trade brought about by GATT, as well as the downfall of communism in many parts of the globe, results in a transition in global wheat purchases, with fewer government wheat-buying agencies and more purchases by the private sector. This fundamental change resulted in an increase in the number of buyers and a more quality-conscious and competitive buying environment.

1992 -- Record production in ND 472.8 million bushels (292.4 mil bu in 2001).

Record for all wheat plantings in S.D., at 4.385 million acres (3.02 mil acres planted in 2001).

1993 -- Fusarium head blight (scab) epidemic results in what is regarded as the worst disease-related economic disaster ever to the Northern Plains grain industry.  The epidemic spurs growth of other crops and prompts a decline in malting barley and durum in traditional growing areas.

1994 -- Dakota Growers Pasta is formed, the first fully integrated, entirely farmer-owned pasta plant.  Today, DGP is the third largest pasta manufacturer in North America.

1994 -- The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect on January 1. The Uruguay Round of GATT talks concluded in April.

1995 -- The World Trade Organization is established on Jan. 1, a multilateral institution charged with administering rules put forth by GATT for trade among member countries.

1996 -- The record for all wheat acres planted in North Dakota, at 12.68 million acres (9.45 mil acres planted in 2001).

The record for all wheat production in South Dakota, at 139.2 million bushels (76.7 mil bu in 2001).

Congress passes “Freedom to Farm” Act. While the law offers farmers even more planting flexibility than the 1990 Farm Bill, it fails in its plan to phase out direct subsidy payments to farmers. 

Short supplies push grain prices to record highs.

Spring Wheat Bakers, originally called United Spring Wheat Processors, was legally formed.  Its members are spread across a geographic region larger than any other value-added wheat cooperative in the United States.

1997 -- The U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative is organized, marking a new federal approach to focusing concerted research attention to an agricultural pest problem.

2002 -- For the first time in four decades, Cuba purchased U.S. wheat.  The purchase comes on the heels in recent years of other landmark wheat market advancements in Vietnam, Libya, and China, spurred in part by market development of U.S. Wheat Associates.

Chronology compiled by Tracy Sayler. Sources: Minnesota Historical Society; Oregon State University; University of Saskatchewan; USDA; Dr. Jack Carter, NDSU; University of Minnesota; “Five for the Land and Its People,” by Bill G. Reid; “Our Purpose is to Serve: The First Century of the ND Ag Experiment Station,” by David B. Danbom; “Kernels and Chaff, A History of Wheat Marketing Development,” by Marx Koehnke.