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Information for Buckwheat Growers

Northeast Buckwheat Growers Newsletter

No. 19 June 2005
Edited by Thomas Björkman, Cornell NYSAES, Geneva NY

2005 Field Day in Southern Tier on August 23
The eleventh annual Northeast Buckwheat Field Day will be August 23. This year, the field day moves to the Southern Tier. The hill country and valleys on both sides of the New York-Pennsylvania border have long been areas for buckwheat production. The location, near Corning, NY, should be convenient for growers from the Susquehanna River area, as well as from the southern Finger Lakes and Genesee River Valley. The program will run from 1:00 to 3:30.

The program will be hosted by the Big Flats Plant Materials Center, and its director, Martin Vandergrinten. The Plant Materials Center is at 3266-A State Route 352 in Corning. To get there, take Interstate 86/ Route 17 to exit 48 (East Corning/Route 352). Then follow State Route 352 for 1.5 miles east to the center. The entrance is on the left. Click here for more detailed directions.

On the program will be field demonstrations of the effects of planting methods. Since planting is the major management decision, the influence of seeding depth and rate, as well as field preparation, will be seen.  In addition, there will be a hands-on practical for determining seed set and potential yield a month before harvest. The farmer-to-farmer exchange of knowledge on production issues is always popular.

The Big Flats Plant Materials Center, apart of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, selects new conservation plants and develops new plant technology to provide vegetative solutions to conservation problems in the Northeast region. The Center has developed new technology for improving forage, buffer strips, cover crops, watershed protection, mine reclamation, living snow fences, and windbreaks.

2005 brings twelve-dollar buckwheat from Birkett Mills
For 2005 contracts, Birkett Mills is paying $12 per hundredweight. That is an increase of 75 cents over last year, and $1.75 over 2003. They are eager to sign up more local producers! Contact is Cliff Orr by phone at 315-539-3311, or by email at This is a good time to line up seed.

The contracted variety is Koto, which has shown a 24% yield advantage over the older Manor variety in commercial farm trials.

For organic buckwheat, there is a premium with a minimum contract of 50 acres.

Effect of planting date on harvest index
One of the measures of how efficiently a crop plant makes product is the harvest index. This value is simply the weight of grain divided by the total dry weight of the plant. For beans and small grains, that value is around 50%. That ratio of half crop, half stover is the optimum combination of plant size: big enough plant to give a high yield, and partitioning to grain.

Buckwheat's harvest index can be in the 40-45% range, which is very good. But with big plants, it is much less. Many growers recognize that plants four or five feet tall don't yield well.

One of the things that influences harvest index is the seeding date. Earlier seeding makes the plants bigger. Two plant responses play a role. First is the effect of daylength on partitioning. Second is the effect of summer heat on flower abortion, also known as heat blasting.

The daylength response affects when the plant gets serious about ripening seed. At Geneva, that daylength occurs about August 25th. If the crop is sown on July 4, it will have set a good crop of seed and be ready to ripen them. That planting date gives good yields and a good harvest index. Later seeding dates result in smaller plants and fewer initiated seeds by late August, but the final harvest index is usually high. If the planting date is earlier, the plant continues to grow larger at the same time it should be filling seeds.

As one goes south, the earlier planting dates are needed to match the daylength to crop development. However, doing so raises the risk of heat blasting. When high temperatures at flowering cause flower abortion, yield and harvest index drop. That is one reason for the southern edge of the buckwheat zone. In West Virginia, buckwheat can only be grown in the cooler high elevations.

The tradeoff giving the best yield was discussed in the September 2000 Newsletter.

Canada loses Japanese market
Frost early in the growing season as well as in September resulted in 2004 buckwheat production in Canada suffering significantly, according to a number of industry sources. "The crop was a disaster in all senses of the word," according to Art Miller, of Agricore United. "Buckwheat is not very tolerant of frost, which basically 'toasted' the crop."

The poor buckwheat crop means that Canada will only be a limited supplier of the commodity onto the world market in 2004-05, Miller noted. Notably, sales to Japan have been minimal.

The loss of Japan's market was seen as the worst news, he said, noting that it is not easy to break into some of these markets. Canadian producers have worked for many years to develop the business relationships with Japanese millers.

Overall, Canadian 2004 yields were about 60% of normal, at 12 bu/ac. In addition, about 25% of the planted acres were not harvested. Those unaffected by frost ran as high as 30 bu/ac. The total production was 5,000 tons compared with recent numbers near 10-15,000 tons. Approximately 70% of total Canadian production is in Manitoba, with the balance in Ontario and Quebec.

For 2005, Canadian production and supply are forecast to increase, with a near-normal seeded area of 22,000 acres, lower abandonment, and yields near the normal 18 bu/ac. The average price is forecast to be the same as in 2004-05. Last year, the price from the processor to food processors was about $12.50 per hundredweight.

  • Stan Skrypetz, Canadian Pulse and Special Crops Outlook April 25, 2005.

Buckwheat cover crops
Buckwheat has long been used for controlling weeds, but the art of using it well is no longer common knowledge. Current published guidance is overly general, missing important details needed to incorporate it effectively into farming systems.

A team from Cornell University was recently funded by USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education to compile and spread that knowledge. The SARE Buckwheat cover crop project combines expertise in production and physiology of buckwheat (Thomas Björkman, Department of Horticulture) with expertise in weed science (Robin Bellinder, Department of Horticulture and Russ Hahn, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences).

This project will allow more farmers to use buckwheat effectively by identifying the situations where it works best and providing specific information on the exact procedures for success.

We have had input from farmers who have used buckwheat successfully in their farming operations. Among these is project participant Cliff Hatch, of Gill, MA. He has a particularly intense program of sowing buckwheat immediately after tilling in strawberries after the last year's harvest, then raising two successive buckwheat crops the following year.

NBGA member Carl Kahkonen is a project participant who is intensifying production on his farm near Mecklenburg, NY. He has maintained some land by mowing that will now be used to raise vegetables. Making that transition successful will use buckwheat in two ways. It will be used to suppress the flush of weeds that comes when the ground is first tilled. It will also help mellow the soil so that vegetable crops can be established well.

Buckwheat is a good fit after early vegetables when combined with a winter cover crop. NBGA member Elizabeth Henderson follows spring greens with a summer cover crop of buckwheat that is spaded in and seeded to oats as a winter-killed cover that protects the ground during the winter but also allows early planting.

How you can help. We need similar assistance from other experienced buckwheat growers. NBGA members raise many crops in rotation with buckwheat and are the experts at using it effectively. If you have knowledge that deserves to be preserved and shared, please get in touch. Experienced buckwheat growers have essential knowledge about the small things that make the difference between success and failure of weed control.

Have you used buckwheat to control perennial weeds like quackgrass, bindweed and oxalis (woodsorrel)? Buckwheat has long been used for quackgrass control. We need details on how to make that work. Is timing important? Is a 5 or 6 week cover crop enough or do you need the 10-11 weeks of a grain crop, or perhaps two cover crop cycles back to back? Does tillage before planting buckwheat make quackgrass harder or easier to suppress? Bindweed and oxalis are also perennials that spread by rhizomes. Does buckwheat suppress them?

Charles Blood, in Madison Co. NY, finds that with his vigorous buckwheat growth (easily 4 feet tall), the timing of the cover crop is not critical. Both early and late buckwheat seedings eliminate quackgrass the next year and it does not return.

Tell your story to Thomas Björkman at 315-787-2218 or

Research news: self-pollinated buckwheat
Kade Research in Morden, Manitoba has been developing self-pollinated buckwheat varieties. The firm's sponsors, Agricore United in Manitoba and Minn-Dak in North Dakota, are planting these varieties extensively in 2005. So far, they are not available to other producers. Self-pollination arose from a wild species, followed by intense breeding to overcome inbreeding depression. With productive self-pollinated breeding lines, breeder Clayton Campbell has been able to introduce interesting structural traits. Some of these include ball-shaped flowering heads, shorter stature, large leaves, and red hulls.

Some of these will be displayed at the field day in Corning on August 23rd.

2004 buckwheat harvest
The wet conditions in the Northeast in 2004 made planting very difficult. Much of the buckwheat that was planted did poorly as a result of excess moisture. We won't dwell on it. Better soil conditions so far in 2005 should allow better field preparation and promise a good crop.

Unfortunately for North American growers, the crop in China is big enough that the world price of buckwheat has not risen in response to the shortage on our continent.

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