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Wheat: Twelve thousand year timeline

Wheat development timeline

Dubbed the world's "most important" crop, wheat is also the UK's most widely produced arable crop, grown over almost two million hectares of land.

The origins of cultivated wheat can be traced back to the earliest farming - the planting and cultivation of plants and domestication of animals - more than 10,000 years ago.

But the wheat we see today is not the same as what our ancestors were growing. It has evolved over thousands of years.

Over time farmers have chosen to cultivate crops and animals most suited to the soils, climate, and topography of specific areas, and cross-breed varieties to ensure maximum success every season.

It is a process that has accelerated in recent times says Ian Shield, an agronomist at Rothamsted Research who has put together a timeline of ancient wild grasses over thousands of years which led to today's dwarfed, cultivated wheat.

Wheat Agriculture land accounts for 70% of UK land use

Lammas wheat refers to much older forms of the crop, which began to appear before 1700. Red lammas is no longer used in cultivation, but can be recognised by its tall stem and slender ears.

Much of the development has been in the last 100 years, and has been to increase yields.

"The big thing that happened in the 20th Century for wheat was dwarfing".

"A reduction in height meant a reduction in the straw growing, so the bigger the ear with more grains, wheat was much less likely to stay standing up in heavy yields.

"With dwarfing we can really push the yield with fertiliser so it doesn't fall over," he explains.

Wheat type Norin 10 was found in Japan before WWII. Scientists introduced it to the US in the 1950s when it spread across the world, becoming popular in the UK in the '60s.

Between June 2012 and 2013, the area used for traditional crops like wheat dropped by 19%.

And yields for all crops fell between 2011 and 2012, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Terrible weather meant some farmers could not plant winter sown crops. Some crops failed due to flooding and pests, and some farmers could not plant crops at all.

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