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Information for Buckwheat Growers

Northeast Buckwheat Growers Newsletter

No. 13 June 2002
Edited by Thomas Bjorkman, Cornell NYSAES, Geneva NY

Harvest and Koto
With the intention of having Koto seed abundantly available for the 2003 season in the Northeast, Koto seed is being increased in Ohio this year.

Koto is the result of a joint effort between Thomas Björkman at Cornell University and Clayton Campbell of Agriculture Canada and Kade Research to develop a variety that takes better advantage of Northeastern growing conditions. All of the varieties developed for North America after 1970 were designed with the North Dakota and Manitoba climate in mind. These areas' high winds, low humidity, and long summer days require special traits. However, the Northeast has still air, high humidity and a more compressed buckwheat growing season. Koto and Keukett are the two varieties to come out of this effort. Koto is just now ready for commercial use here. By taking better advantage of Northeastern growing conditions, Koto establishes faster, compensates for stress better, and makes more uniform seed than earlier varieties.

Here are the results of New York commercial trials of Koto against the current standard Manisoba. All are replicated trials on commercial farms, using the farmers standard practices. Each trial site had 6 plots of each variety, with each plot being 0.6-1.2 acres. Yields are cleaned weight in lb/ac at 14% moisture.

% increase
Seneca Falls
Seneca Falls

Koto is a patented variety, so the rules on who can grow it are different. Production of Koto in Manitoba is restricted to selected growers for Agricore. There are ongoing legal wranglings over some non-Agricore grain from Manitoba being marketed as Koto. There have been legal disputes associated with Koto in New York also. In New York, Koto is licensed to Birkett Mills. Modern intellectual property controls are changing the rules for doing business, and not all of it is clear.

Organic buckwheat
Organic growers find buckwheat a valuable part of their rotation. As a cash crop, it also provides a premium. The Birkett Mills buys and markets Certified Organic buckwheat to manufacturers of Organic products.

The Birkett Mills is certified by FVO, but most of its suppliers are certified by NOFA-NY. Growers who can contract at least 50 acres of Certified Organic buckwheat are eligible for a $2 per hundredweight premium.

New standards require organic seeds to used in production or a good-faith effort made to obtain them. Right now, it is not possible to buy organic seed of Manisoba or Koto buckwheat. There is opportunity for a seed producer to step in to supply this market. Perhaps an NBGA member would find this attractive.

For the time being, regular seed needs to be used. While not organic, growers may get some peace of mind from knowing that it is untreated and is produced without pesticides and with no or very little synthetic fertilizer.

The main competition for Northeast-grown organic buckwheat is OCIA-certified buckwheat groats produced in China.

Another wet spring
With abundant rain during corn-planting season, there may be more acres available for buckwheat. Savvy buckwheat growers know that early June often brings the best conditions for preparing the field. Working the ground when the moisture is right will provide the good seedbed that buckwheat demands. The ground will neither be lumpy, nor will the aggregates be broken. A light working with a cultimulcher in mid June and again before seeding weakens the perennial weeds and keeps the ground in good shape. It also helps conserve moisture for the expected dry mid-summer.

Bouchard's Ployes
Maine Public Television recently produced a show about buckwheat in northern Maine.

By Bob Libby, Maine Public TV.

The Bouchard family has been growing potatoes for over a hundred and fifty years in the St. John Valley in the northern reaches of Maine. The mantle of this traditional lifeway has been passed to Joe Bouchard and his wife Janice. Joe, Janice, and their three children face a vastly different world than their ancestors: the family farm is on the verge of extinction in the St. John Valley.

The family has diversified by growing buckwheat, a rotation crop for potatoes. They have turned growing buckwheat into a budding business, selling pre-packaged mix for Ployes, a traditional Acadian buckwheat pancake. They mill the buckwheat into flour in Canada and produce the pre-packaged mix in their converted garage. They have recently built a building on their land that will serve as a buckwheat mill and a packaging plant. Many cultures possess a flat bread and Ployes have been a breadlike dish eaten at almost every meal for the last century. Unique to the St. John Valley, Ployes are a symbol of Acadian culture and a lifeway at risk of fading from the Northern Maine landscape. The Bouchards are working to market this product in New England and beyond; their hopes for the survival of the family farm rest on this venture.

Crop insurance for buckwheat?
The USDA's Risk Management Agency has taken another step in creating crop insurance for buckwheat. In May, it issued a task order to develop an analysis of production risks associated with buckwheat production. This move follows a 1996 report on the buckwheat risk situation. It is possible that some Northeastern buckwheat growers will be contacted to test loss adjustment methods in conjunction with this task order.

It is encouraging to see this effort by the USDA continue, which can be taken as a sign of their serious consideration of buckwheat. Buckwheat will be more attractive for some farmers if the full range of programs are available for this crop as for corn and soybeans.

Contracts online
You can view the 2002 grower contract for Birkett Mills online at

"The buckwheat

Whitened broad acres,

sweetening with its flowers

The August wind."

W. C. Bryant: The Fountain, 1839

The association grew by 18 new members who raise buckwheat in the Northeast. We continue to get more farmers and researchers who get the online newsletter announcements.

One of the things that members want from the Northeast Buckwheat Growers Association is the chance to share buckwheat growing ideas with other farmers. I'm happy to print your good ideas here.

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