Source: The Handbook of Texas Online
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
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
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, Barker Texas
History Center, University of Texas at Austin
was last updated January 9, 2014.