In 1865 there was only one truly global crop: wheat – still vital to many people’s diets today. Because of its worldwide reach, there are reliable figures on its production, consumption and trade from 1865 onwards.
150 years of food and agriculture: Wheat was the star in 1865
Much of this data comes from the British Board of Trade and was quoted extensively in a 1970 paper World Wheat Supplies 1865-1913 published by Marion O’Connor of Princeton University.
That paper reports on production from 15 countries in Europe, North America and Australasia. It shows that in 1865 France was the largest producer of wheat and it is still Europe’s biggest wheat grower. What is striking is the massive growth in output since 1865. Key producing countries such as the USA, Russia and Germany have seen their wheat production soar by more than 1,000 %, while output in Canada and Australia has jumped by more than 6,000 % and 8,000 % respectively.
Wheat output from the 15 selected countries is up by nearly 1,000 % over the last 150 years, but over that time wheat has become less important as the availability of other crops has grown. In 1865 the average consumption in the selected 15 countries was 99 kg/head a year. By 1900 it had peaked at 141 kg/head a year. But now world wheat consumption is 65 kg/head a year. However, average grain consumption, which includes wheat, corn, barley and rice is 330 kg/head a year.