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About Hard Red Spring Wheat

Hard red spring wheat -- grown mostly in North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota and Minnesota -- stands out as the aristocrat of wheat for baking bread. Hard red spring has the highest protein content of all U.S. wheats (usually 13 to 16 percent) which, in turn, corresponds with greater gluten content. For this reason, flour mills in the United States and in many export markets blend hard red spring wheat with lower protein wheats to increase the gluten content in the resulting batch of flour. The addition of hard red spring improves dough handling and mixing characteristics, and water absorption.

Quick Facts

  • Hard red spring wheat is a specialty wheat because of its high protein content and strong gluten characteristics. Some of the world's finest yeast breads, hard rolls and bagels are made with hard red spring.
  • North Dakota has about 30,300 farms. About 19,200 grow wheat, according to the 2005 Census of Agriculture. Nearly 14,200, or 74 percent, grow hard red spring wheat.

  • North Dakota farmers rank first in the United States in the production of hard red spring wheat, growing an average 250 million bushels (6.8 million metric tons) annually, or almost half of the nation's crop. Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Idaho and Washington also grow hard red spring wheat.
  • Hard red spring wheat grows best in the northern areas of the country, where summers are mild and not too hot for young, tender plants. Hard red spring wheat is planted from April through late May and harvested in August to mid September.
  • The Minneapolis Grain Exchange (MGE) is the recognized center for the price discovery of U.S. hard red spring wheat. The MGE provides the facilities for buyers and sellers to trade spring wheat and reports market transactions to the public. It is the only cash grain market in the world and is the only exchange that trades hard red spring wheat futures contracts.
  • Prices that farmers receive for spring wheat from country elevators directly relate to prices in the major spring wheat cash markets of Minneapolis or Portland minus a charge for the elevator's services and transportation costs.

  • The grain trade calls hard red spring wheat "Dark Northern Spring," a term which has become a trademark of excellence for the high protein, high quality wheat.
  • One bushel of wheat weighs 60 pounds and yields about 42 pounds of flour after milling and sifting. That 42 pounds of flour will make approximately 42 one-and-one-half-pound loaves of white bread (the size most commonly sold) or 64 loaves of whole-wheat bread.

  • Hard red spring wheat ranges from 13 to 16 percent protein. High protein content and superior gluten quality allow spring wheat to make the finest yeast breads and dinner rolls. Gluten's elastic nature helps increase loaf volume by trapping carbon dioxide gas produced in the fermentation process. Gluten enables hearth breads to retain their shape better while baking and provides the strength needed in baked products to support heavy, high-fiber ingredients such as whole grains, raisins and nuts.
  • Hard red spring wheat is also used extensively as a blending wheat to increase the gluten strength in batches of flour.
  • Spring wheat flour absorbs more water than lower protein flours. This means bakers can make more loaves of bread from a given quantity of flour, and the end product has improved moistness and softness and increased shelf-life.
  • Breads are an important part of a healthy diet. They are high in carbohydrates, low in fat and low in calories. Enriched breads are good sources of iron and some B-vitamins.

  • Besides making food, hard red spring wheat can be used as a food thickener, sweetener or laundry detergent. It can also be used in paper manufacturing and ethyl alcohol production.
  • One half of the U.S. hard red spring wheat crop is exported to foreign countries as a superior wheat for blending and specialty breads.

  • U.S. hard red spring wheat is exported to over 70 countries. Asia markets are the destination for more than half of all spring wheat exports. Latin and South American customers account for 27 percent, Europeans for 11 percent and African/Mid East markets for 6 percent.

  • Wheat quality begins with the varieties planted. Spring wheat variety development is carried out at experiment stations at North Dakota State University in Fargo as well as at land grant universities in Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana. Public plant breeders at these experiment stations release most of the U.S. spring wheat varieties available. Prospective releases are evaluated for milling, baking, yield and agronomic traits.