Viewed most myopically, acreage data issued June 30 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture could be interpreted by the wheat-based foods industry as encouraging. After all, the estimate for 2014 crop wheat plantings at 56,474,000 acres was up from the March Prospective Plantings report and would mark the third consecutive year in which total wheat acreage was up from the season before.
Still, taking even the smallest of steps back suggests no letup in the long-term trend away from wheat planting in the United States. The 2014 acreage figure is smaller than any year between 1973 and 2010. Halfway through, U.S. wheat acreage in the current decade has averaged 55.4 million acres, 4 million acres, or 6%, fewer than in the first decade of this century (59.3-million-acre average), 20% fewer than in the 1990s (69 million average) and 27% fewer than in the 1980s (76.3 million). Wheat acreage in 2014 is estimated down 36% from the all-time high of 88.3 million acres in 1981.
The data all underscore the importance of efforts by the collective “wheat chain” industry groups to continue to explore ways to enhance the competitiveness of wheat as a crop choice, reversing the long-term downward acreage trend. The bountiful availability of wheat with its great diversity of end use qualities has been an invaluable resource in the United States, making possible the variety and quality of grain-based foods that is the envy of the world. Preserving that source of industry vitality is crucial.