Wheat is the second most important food crop of the country after rice both in area and production. It accounts for 26 per cent of the total area and 36.5 per cent of the total production of cereals in the country. India stands second in the production of wheat in the world contributing over 13 per cent of the total area and 12 percent of the total production of wheat in the world.
It is the remarkable progress in wheat cultivation since 1967-68 which has made India self sufficient in foodgrains. It forms the staple food for people in the northern and north-western parts of the country. Its grains have been discovered by the archaeological evidences of the Harappan towns which very well testify the antiquity of its early cultivation in the country.
Conditions of Growth
Wheat is grown in a variety of geographical conditions. Primarily a crop of the temperate grasslands wheat requires a cool climate with moderate rainfall. In India it is a winter crop grown in rabi season with temperature between 10-l5°C and rainfall between 5-15 cm. The warm and humid climate of the eastern and sothern parts of the country is not suitable for wheat cultivation. Frost at the time of flowering and cloudines at the time of the ripening of the grains cause damage to the crop. Similarly sudden increase in temperature at the time of the maturity of grains reduces the crop-yield.
Wheat requires about 10°C of temperature at the time of sowing, 15° C for plant growth and 20° to 25° C for the maturity of the grains. In India wheat is a winter crop and high temperature, as in summer season, is harmful for the crop.
About 80 cm of annual rainfall is ideal for wheat cultivation. The traditional wheat growing region of the north-western India receives an annual rainfall of 40 to 75 cm. Here about 12.5 cm of rainfall in winter months (January-February) is boon for wheat cultivation. While the shortage of rainfall may be made up by irrigation the excess of moisture retards the plant growth.
Light loam, sandy loam, and clay loam are well suited for wheat cultivation. In India most of the wheat (tritium aestivum) is grown in the alluvial soils of the Great Plains. Butmarconi wheat (tritium durum) on the black soils of the Deccan Peninsula and tritium dicoccum on the red soils of the Nilgiri Hills are notable exceptions.
Although great variety of machines may be utilised for every work in wheat cultivation but in India human labour, this is plenty and cheap, plays significant role.
Wheat field requires good preparation through multiple plugging before the seeds are sown. The cropping season lasts from September-October to January-February in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal; October-November to March-April in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Bihar; and from November-December to April-May in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.
The average per hectare yield of wheat in the country is 2618 kilograms which depicts an increase of 295.9% over 1950-51 (663 kg/ha). This is due to the introduction of HYV seeds, chemical fertilizers and better crop management. Still this yield is much lower than U.K... Germany, France and Japan.
On state-level Punjab recorded the highest per hectare yield (4200 kg/ha), followed by Haryana (4053 kg/ ha), Rajasthan (2708 kg/ha), and Uttar Pradesh (2596 kg/ha) in 2002-03. Southern states like Karnataka (648 kg/ha) and Maharashtra (1295 kg/ha) due to unfavourable weather conditions, are characterised by low per hectare yield.
At present 92.5% of wheat is cultivated with high yielding varieties of seeds like Lerma, Rajo, Sonora 63 and 64 (Mexican varieties), Sona 227, Kalyan Sona, Sonalika, Chhoti Lerma, Sharbati Sonora, Shera, Heera. Safed Lerma, UP 302, Saran, Champaran and C-i-7 etc. Indian wheat is of two types : (a) Common bread wheat (tritium aestivum) grown in the Northern Plains which is white in colour and soft, and (b) Macaroni wheat (tritium durum) grown in black soil regions of Maharashtra and adjoining area which is reddish in colour and hard.