Section 3: Small Grains
Small grains are plants that have small, hard seeds, which are usually used as food. Most small grains are cereal grains.
Cereal grains are members of the grass family that produce grains, or seeds, which can be eaten. Some cereal grains that are classified as small grains are wheat, barley, and oats. Corn is a cereal grain, but it is not a small grain.
Wheat is one of the most important food crops in the world and is the major crop of North Dakota. About half of all the cropland in the state is planted with this cereal grain.
North Dakota produces more spring wheat and durum wheat than any other state in the nation. In fact, about 60 percent of all the durum and about half of all the spring wheat in the United States comes from North Dakota.
Most of the wheat raised in North Dakota is seeded (planted) from April to late May. The crop must get enough moisture throughout the summer to mature properly. Wheat plants generally grow to be from 2 to 4 feet tall by harvest time.
Small Grain Plant Parts
- Head—contains the kernels (about 50 kernels per head); topped by bristles (BRIS-els), or hair-like tips
- Stem, or stalk—supports the head
- Leaves—conduct photosynthesis to make food for the plant
- Roots—anchor the plant in the soil
Harvest usually begins in early August and is finished by mid-September. The modern methods of harvesting differ significantly from those used in pioneer times. Today, combines, rather than threshing machines, are used to harvest small grains. In nine seconds, a combine can harvest enough wheat to make 70 loaves of bread!
If farmers need more time for the grain to dry, they will swath it before combining. A swather is a machine that cuts down the grain and lays it in windrows, or long rows. After the grain has dried, a combine comes along and picks up the windrows of wheat or other grain.
Wheat that has been harvested is often sold at a grain elevator in town. A grain elevator is a high structure containing several bins for grain storage. The elevator got its name from the motorized lifting device that elevates (lifts) the grain up into the bins.
Trucks drive directly into the elevator. After a truckload of grain has been weighed on a huge scale, the grain is dumped into a pit. From there, it is elevated to a specific bin.
From the elevator, the wheat is loaded into railroad cars or into trucks and shipped to a flour mill. A flour mill is a place that grinds wheat to make flour. The type of flour made depends on the type of wheat that was used.
The largest flour mill in North Dakota is the North Dakota Mill and Elevator located in Grand Forks. This mill produces the Dakota Maid brand of flours, including all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and bread flour.
Wheat Kernel Parts
- Bran — hard, outer layers of kernel; consists of 7 layers; high in fiber; contains B-vitamins and other nutrients; kept with endosperm and germ to make whole-wheat flour
- Endosperm — largest part of kernel; contains carbohydrates, protein, iron, B-vitamins; used to make white flour
- Germ — smallest part of kernel; sprouts to grow into a new wheat plant when kernel is planted in soil; kept with endosperm and bran to make whole-wheat flour
Hundreds of varieties of wheat have been developed. Many of these varieties were developed by scientists at North Dakota State University (NDSU) in Fargo. The varieties are classified into six different types according to these three conditions: (1) how hard or soft the kernels (seeds) are; (2) the color of the kernels; and (3) the season the crop is planted. The main wheat crops in North Dakota are hard red spring wheat and durum.
Hard red spring wheat is the most widely produced crop in North Dakota. This type of wheat has hard, reddish-colored kernels and is planted in the spring. It is also called “dark northern spring wheat.” Hard red spring wheat makes excellent flour for bread-making. North Dakota farmers raise enough wheat each year to make 11.6 billion (11,600,000,000) loaves of bread.
Durum is the hardest of all wheats. The word “durum” comes from the Latin word dūrus, which means “hard.” The hardness of this wheat makes it the best choice for producing pasta.
When other kinds of wheat are milled (ground up), the endosperm breaks down into a fine powder. Durum, however, has an endosperm so hard that when it is milled, a grainy substance, rather than a powder, is produced. This substance is called “semolina” (sem-ah- LEE-nah). Semolina is the main raw ingredient in pasta.
The word “pasta” comes from an Italian word that means “paste.” Over 350 different types of pasta are produced throughout the world. Spaghetti and macaroni are two common forms of pasta. North Dakota farmers raise enough durum to make 14 billion (14,000,000,000) servings of spaghetti. Durum contains more protein than any other type of wheat.
North Dakota leads the nation in the production of durum. Each year, about 1.7 million acres of durum are planted in the state. North Dakota durum is sold to more than 30 countries throughout the world.
Barley is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. Archaeologists have found evidence indicating that this small grain dates back 18,000 years. Barley contains less protein than wheat and is not commonly used for bread-making.
|North Dakota Leads the Nation|
|Crops||% of U.S. Production|
|Dry edible beans||39%|
Barley is divided into two classes— malting barley and feed barley. North Dakota leads the nation in the production of malting barley.
Malting barley is a higher quality barley that is used for human consumption (eating and drinking). Most malting barley is made into malted beverages such as beer. This “malt” is also used in malted milk shakes. Feed barley is used as fodder for cattle, sheep, swine, and poultry.
Oats is a cereal grain used mainly as fodder, especially for horses and cattle. Only about 5 percent of the oats raised is used for human consumption. The oats consumed by humans is found in oatmeal, cold cereals, and snack bars. North Dakota produces about 10 percent of the nation’s oats crop.