Wheat, like all cereals is basically a type of grass. It originated over 10,000 years ago. Traces of the will grasses from which wheat evolved have been found in countries we know today as Syria and Palestine.
The first known crops were barley and einkorn (a primitive form of wheat). By 7,000 B.C. our ancestors has discovered how to cultivate cereals in order to make food. At first, wheat was eaten raw or roasted over hot stones. Within the next 1,000 years, it was discovered that if the grain was crushed it became more palatable – milling had been introduced.
At first, barley was the principal cereal produced, but after the Middle Ages, because of its bread making qualities, wheat began to replace it in popularity.
Today, a greater amount of wheat is grown than any other cereal in the world.
Since the time of the Roman Empire, wheat has played an important part in trade. It was and still is a sign of a country’s prosperity. In Britain, the Corn laws were introduced in the last century to protect wheat prices. These laws banned the importation of foreign wheat when the price of home wheat fell below a certain level. They were repealed in 1846, partly because of the drastic effects of the Irish Famine.
In the Middle ages, land was often over cultivated, which exhausted the soil and made it barren. The Agricultural Revolution in the 18th century saw the development of new farming techniques, such as crop rotation which changed the practice, ensuring that land was periodically allowed to lie fallow (rested).
The development and use of artificial fertilisers, the increased use of machines (such as the threshing machine in the 19th century) and the development of more sophisticated machinery (such as the combine harvester in the 20th century) resulted in more efficient farming. Farmers got increased returns and at the same time could employ fewer farm workers.