NZ History of Wheat Growing
New Zealand, as the Polynesians discovered when they settled over a 1000 years ago, lacked this conventional food, It had no “native wheat”, or any other wild grasses that could be cultivated for grain and therefore it was difficult to maintain a constant food source over winter.
It is thought that Ruatara, chief of the Ngapuhi people, was among the first to plant wheat as a crop in New Zealand in the early 1800s. In the 1820s mission settlements also produced letters boasting about the fields of what they had planted. By the 1840s wheat growing by both the Maori and Europeans was well established.
When the first records of wheat production were collated in 1855, the North island had 994 hectares and the South Island 3163 hectares planted in wheat. Since that time, wheat has been one of the mainstays of New Zealand’s arable cropping industry. Today wheat production is centred in the greater Canterbury area. In 1995 the value of the New Zealand harvest was worth in excess of $60 million.
In recent times world consumption and production of wheat have increased almost linearly. In the sixties, between two and three hundred million tonnes were produced and consumed, and by the nineties the figure had risen to more than 500 million tonnes.
In New Zealand, wheat production peaked in 1969 (456 640 tonnes). The total yield for 1993 was 219 414 tonnes. This represents 0.043% of the world’s production for that year.
The figures for wheat production in New Zealand do not represent the total quantity of wheat used in New Zealand, however, as we have rarely reached self-sufficiency.
Wheat for use in bread making has been imported primarily from Australia to ensure sufficient quantity for New Zealanders’ use. This has been common since the early 1930s. The quantity imported has ranged from none to over 250 000 tonnes per year.
Today, wheat is of major significance to New Zealand’s food industry, being used in a wide range of baking goods, from breads and biscuits to food thickeners. Wheat grain and milling by-products are also used as stock feed.
Since the introduction of those first strains of wheat in the 1800s the quality of the wheat grown in New Zealand has improved greatly to produce wheat suitable for making the bread we eat today.
Over the years, scientists have improved the wheat plant to produce higher hield and to improve the quality of the final products. As a result there are many different types of wheat.
Overall, harvests now produce better bread baking wheat. Humans have come a long way from eating raw grain.