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Information for Buckwheat Growers

Northeast Buckwheat Growers Newsletter

No. 17 June 2004
Edited by Thomas Bjorkman, Cornell NYSAES, Geneva NY

2004 Field Day in Western New York
The 2004 Northeast Buckwheat Field Day will held in Batavia, NY, on Wednesday, August 25th. It is hosted by ACDS Research, the managers of the New York Crop Research Facility, and Farm Manager Jeremiah Smith. The program will begin at 1:00 and run through about 3:30. This is another chance for current and potential buckwheat growers in Western NY and PA, as well as the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, to have easier access to the field day.

Buckwheat price is up
Birkett Mills has raised the price paid to growers this year. Birkett Mills is paying $11.25 to growers contracting Koto buckwheat. As the region’s dominant buyer of buckwheat, Birkett Mills’ price tends to have a substantial effect on buckwheat production and prices throughout the Northeast. Cliff Orr said, “We are trying to increase the acreage of local buckwheat production by increasing what we pay growers." The price increase reflects reduced stocks of carryover buckwheat in Manitoba and in North Dakota.

Seed is available for Koto at $15.50 per bag, or 17.50 for organic Koto as part of a production contract. Cover crop seed is $13.25 per bag. 315-536-3311.

AgriCulver, a processor of buckwheat seed for over 50 years, was sold last fall to Seedway, of Hall, NY. This marks the retirement of former owner Bill Kenney, a prominent figure in Northeast buckwheat. Best wishes to Bill from the NBGA!

The staff at AgriCulver remains the same, as does their product line. AgriCulver recently obtained the rights to the new Ontario-bred variety “BF,” and were pleased with its performance in New York last year. One of its features is an extended flowering period, which is of particular interest to apiarists wanting more bee forage. AgriCulver’s buckwheat is not sold by variety name, but simply as “Large Seeded Buckwheat.” Nevertheless, for 2004, it will consist of the BF variety.

The company expects to contract about 500 acres of buckwheat this year. They have room to add some new growers to their program. The contract price is likely to remain stable. They sell buckwheat seed at $23 per bag, with a discount to contract growers. 800-836-3701.

Other marketers
High demand for organic buckwheat seed has already depleted this year’s supply at Penn Yan’s Lakeview Organic Grain. They still have conventional seed available, however. Lakeview sources their organic seed from local growers who have an established relationship with the company. 315-531-1038

Homestead Organics of Berwick, Ont. is active in eastern Ontario, western Quebec, Vermont and northern NY. They have organic buckwheat seed at C$24/bag. Koto seed available for contract growers in conventional (C$23/bag) or organic (C$26). They are contracting growers for 2004 to produce for US export, buying organic Koto at US$13.25 per hundredweight, and conventional at $11.15. 877-984-0480.

Koto grower experience
The variety Koto was grown on a large basis in the Northeast for the first time in 2003. Growers delivering to Homestead Organics in Ontario found that Koto seed shattered less after a frost, allowing better recovery. Jerry Price in Pennsylvania found the strong early growth to be too much of a good thing in fertile fields. The chest-high buckwheat lodged, making for difficult harvest and low recovery. Charlie Szymanski in New York was happy with his good yields in 2003.

NBGA members
Charlie Szymanski has raised buckwheat in the highlands above Dansville, Livingsron Co., NY for many years. He is increasing his plantings of buckwheat as the market for certified organic buckwheat strengthens, even bringing more land into organic production. Buckwheat fits well in his rotation after hay to prepare the ground for small grains. While hay is his major crop, buckwheat income plays an important role in keeping the farm going. “I’ve always loved buckwheat,” he says, getting good enjoyment both from raising the crop and eating it.

Jerry Price raises about 70 acres of buckwheat in Wyalusing, Bradford Co. PA. He gets a lot of pleasure from watching it grow so fast that the field can visibly change from morning to evening. A field of blooming buckwheat also looks very attractive. Raising a crop that is so healthy to eat is also a source of satisfaction for him in growing this crop.

On the practical end, buckwheat usually follows an early rye straw harvest, or even wheat. Buckwheat that is double cropped after wheat is seeded in late in July, so the plants are small and frost determines the harvest date. Nevertheless, a respectable crop of grain matures. A valuable benefit of buckwheat in the rotation is that there are few weeds on the farm.

Jerry adds a new animal to the list of wildlife that are attracted to buckwheat. He had a couple of bears roll around in one of the fields last year.

Production elsewhere and export market
Canadian production is forecast to remain stable at 11,000 tons in 2004, in line with a stable seeded area of 22,000 acres. The supply is less because less than 1,000 tons were carried into the year. The average yield was 1000 lb/ac. World supply is forecast to remain stable at 2.3 million tons. Canadian exports are forecast to remain stable at 6,000 tons, with negligible carry-out stocks expected. The average price, over all grades and markets, is forecast to be the same (US$11.40 to $12.50/ hundredweight) as in 2003-04, in line with the stable world supply.

In 2003 the US exported 1,900 tons of buckwheat to Honduras. Much of that was from the Northeast in the form of food aid. In 2004, 450 tons of Northeast buckwheat went to Honduras and 1,000 tons of North Dakota buckwheat groats went to Jamaica as part of the same program. These are a substantial part of US buckwheat production.

The Japanese export market for US buckwheat remains significant at 8,300 tons.

Continuous cropping. Some fields seem to be particularly well suited for raising buckwheat. Fields that dry out slowly in the spring, but otherwise have a fertile, even heavy, soil are one example. Is it possible to raise buckwheat on these fields every year? Crop rotation is important, so what are the consequences of growing buckwheat on buckwheat.

One test of this was conducted by the University of Tsukuba in Japan. The experiment was in the prime buckwheat country near Nagano where the soil was the deep volcanic soil that stays friable even when worked heavily. Hisayoshi Hayashi double cropped buckwheat, raising 8 crops in 4 years. He found no differences between the continuous buckwheat and matched fields that were rotated with other crops. He therefore found no particular pest or nutrient problems arising from this practice.

In the Northeast double cropping is not normally possible, so the likely downside comes from having the land uncropped for nearly 300 days per year. That would result in substantial erosion. In general, soils in our area benefit from having plant cover, or at least residue, all of the time. Nevertheless, buckwheat growers may have extra flexibility when conditions warrant planting buckwheat for a second year, because pest pressure is less problematic that it would be if you tried the same thing with other crops.

Cabbage worm. Buckwheat is sometimes used as an insectary plant to support beneficial insects that then protect nearby crops. Syrphid flies and lady beetles are two beneficials that are strongly attracted to buckwheat. John Luna of Oregon State University found a pest species that also loved buckwheat. They used buckwheat around a broccoli planting, and found that cabbage worms bred and fed on the buckwheat and then moved into the broccoli. That means that buckwheat and cole crops may not make good neighbors. Alternatively, for growers controlling cabbage worm with Bt, buckwheat might make a good trap crop.

Buckwheat and health
Buckwheat honey is particularly dark. Recent research shows that dark honeys, like buckwheat, are good sources of antioxidants. Among other things, antioxidants help slow the loss of “good cholesterol.”

Dr. Nicki Engeseth of the University of Illinois and her team found that buckwheat honey has an antioxidant content similar to many fruits and vegetables. Honeys had ORAC values from 3 to 17, with buckwheat honey typically in the 9 to 17 range. They measured breakdown of LDL cholesterol in humans and found a significant beneficial effect of dark honey, with buckwheat being by far the best. The serum antioxidant capacity of volunteers also went up by 7% after they drank 80 grams of buckwheat honey in water. When the researchers looked for the critical ingredient, they found that the antioxidant capacity is caused by many different components of buckwheat honey.

The last point is good for producers of buckwheat honey since only the real product does the job. There is not some component that can be extracted or supplied from another source.

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