Two classes of wheat are of commercial importance - Breadmaking wheat and Feed wheat. For the sake of brevity feed wheats will not be covered on this site. As with other crops such as tomatoes or potatoes there are many varieties of bread wheat. These have arisen through chance or more recently by deliberate breeding, and each variety has its own characteristics which make it suitable or otherwise for growing in a particular area or for use for a particular purpose.
Over recent years there have been rapid developments in the breeding of new cultivars of wheat and other cereals around the world.The most successful of these are rapidly replacing established varieties and as a result a number of cultivars are no linger grown or are of little importance. The situation will continue to change in the future, but for now the cultivars discussed or presented on this website are relevant to the 2008/2009 NZ season.
Wheat quality depends on the variety, the soil and the climate. In general the highest quality wheats are produced in areas with a hot dry summer, so that the growth is checked by a lack of moisture before too much starch is formed in the grain. Wheats are often spoken of as early or late - this refers to the time of sowing to harvest, and early means early maturing. Wheats are also described as spring or winter wheats, depending on the season of the year when they are planted. Most New Zealand wheat varieties may be sown at either time, dependant on local climatic conditions.
True winter wheats will not come into ear unless the plant is exposed to low temperatures - if sown in spring they remain leafy.
On the Canterbury plains where summer droughts are not uncommon, autumn sowing gives the crop a better chance to mature before the ground becomes too dry.
In Southland, the Manawatu and the Canterbury foothills, with a more evenly distributed rainfall, this is unnecessary, and as crops planted in late autumn or winter are liable to to fungus and diseases, spring sowing is the rule.
Historically the local wheat breeding scene was dominated by cultivars bred for local conditions by the wheat breeders of the DSIR Crop Research Division, but a number of private companies now operate breeding stations often utilising material produced by breeders in Europe, with whom they have close ties. We can expect to see a continuing increase in the number of wheats released by these independant companies, either introduced direct from Europe or bred at their own stations locally.