‘Wheat. So What?’

“Wheat. So what?” That’s what an irritated Capt. Kirk — who was looking at some grain — said to a self-important, semi-competent bureaucrat in the classic Star Trek episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles.”

I thought of that line when I recently visited the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers offices in Red Lake Falls, Minn. (The story will be in the May 14 print issue of Agweek.) It’s fair to say — wheat growers will agree — that wheat isn’t as important in this part of the world as it used to be. Corn and soybeans receive much of the attention and many of the acres that once went to wheat.

Even so, wheat continues to be a cornerstone of Upper Midwest agriculture. And given wheat’s agronomic value, that’s unlikely to change.

On a bigger scale, wheat is the world’s most widely grown crop and accounts for 20 percent — yes, 20 percent! — of calories consumed by humans worldwide. That’s a powerful answer to anyone who says, “Wheat. So what?.”

As good Star Trek fans know, Kirk wasn’t looking at wheat. It was the fictional quadrotriticale. (Triticale, by the way, is a real grain, a hybrid of wheat and rye.) Quadrotriticale turned out to be a big deal, the key to successful development of an strategically important planet. That really impressed me, all those years ago when I was a kid on a North Dakota farm that raised wheat and first saw The Trouble with Tribbles.

Though wheat has lost a little luster, it still is a big deal.

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