Winter wheat and barley blowing in the wind.
A brief history…..
Wheat is a domesticated grain with ancient origins. With a nutritious seed that can be easily dried, stored, and processed in a variety of ways, it has become a staple crop all over the world. Believed to have originated in Asia over 9,000 years ago, it would arrive in Texas much later by way of the Spanish colonizers.
First documented on Christopher Columbus’s second voyage in 1493, wheat and other European crops and domesticated animals would spread north through Mexico and eventually reach Texas. It is believed the Jumano people that inhabited the Rio Grande valley were the first to cultivate wheat here. These agrarian people received seeds through trade with the Spanish long before colonial outposts were established in the area. In Antonio de Espejo’s expedition in 1582 he observes fields of wheat on both sides of the Rio Grande tended by the Jumanos. It would not be until roughly 100 years later that the Spanish would begin to settle the area.
Pressure to secure an eastern boundary against the French would bring the Spanish to settle San Antonio. The first planting of wheat in the area is said to have occurred in 1731. Wheat would continue to be grown throughout the mission period with varying degrees of success. The mill constructed at Mission San Jose implies that some successful harvests would have occurred.
After the secularization of the missions and the end of the Spanish colonial era, the story of wheat in the area would be shaped by European immigrants; German, Irish, and Czech, to name a few. Occurring around 1820, this would mark the introduction of many different varieties of wheat. These new varieties allowed growers to begin to hybridize and thus achieve greater potential yields throughout the United States. Production developed and spread as technology and varieties improved.
Today, South Texas is not considered a hub for wheat production though certain areas of the state continue to produce.
The process of reviving the agricultural history of Mission San Juan brings wheat back to the original farm land of the colonial period. The Spanish are believed to have brought varieties of wheat common to southern Europe. Club, white wheat, or durum are what historians point to as the most likely candidates. These varieties thrive in warm, arid climates. Considering the fluctuating nature of the seasons in south Texas, the challenge of growing wheat will depend greatly on timing.
The crop pictured above was sown right before Thanksgiving. Monitoring growth, comparing varieties, and developing harvest procedures will ensure that spring will be a busy time.
by Irvin Milburn Atkins- Texas A&M University