Skip to main content

Information for Buckwheat Growers

Northeast Buckwheat Growers Newsletter

No. 21 June 2006
Edited by Thomas Bjorkman, Cornell NYSAES, Geneva NY

Contract prices up for 2006
Growers' contract prices from The Birkett Mills are up for 2006. For production of Koto buckwheat, the price paid is $13 per hundredweight. Seed cost is $18 per bag, which plants one acre. The premium for Certified Organic grain, on contracts over 50 acres, is $2 per hundredweight and Certified Organic seed costs $20 per bag.

The higher price reflects the lack of carryover buckwheat from the 2005 season. Higher than usual export to Japan resulted in depletion of all North American buckwheat.

Birkett Mills also supplies cover crop buckwheat seed. Unexpectedly low germination of some lots, and empty buckwheat stores elsewhere, have caused this year’s price to jump to $22 per bag. With a normal harvest in 2006, the price is expected to return to the earlier price around $14.

Field Day on August 29, 2006
The twelfth annual Northeast Buckwheat Field Day will be held August 29, 2006 in Geneva, NY. This year’s field day will return to the Vegetable Research Farm at Cornell’s Geneva Experiment Station where it was held for the first five years. Topics include:

  • New self-compatible varieties developed for grain production and short ones for cover crop use
  • Seeding methods that provide the best establishment at the least cost
  • Effect of planting date on crop growth
  • Identifying growers’ major limitations to profitable buckwheat production

The major sources of funding for applied research now require a formal process for growers to prioritize needs. We will do that for buckwheat, making it possible to request state research funding to help the industry.

The research farm is at 1097 County Road 4, about a mile west of the Geneva Experiment Station towards Seneca Castle.

Cover Crop Field Day August 22
A special buckwheat cover crop field day will be held August 22, 2006 from 3 to 4 pm at the Vegetable Research Farm. It is targeted to vegetable growers in conjunction with the Snap Bean and Sweet Corn field day, or the Soil Health field day being held earlier that afternoon, and with the Agribusiness dinner held later that day.

The program will specifically cover techniques for using buckwheat as a summer cover crop. For information or registration for the three events on August 22, please contact Professor Steve Reiners, at, or 315-787-2311.

2005 harvest notes
Last season produced high-quality buckwheat overall, according to Birkett Mills receiving manager, Larry Strickland. The Koto variety continues to be a strong variety for premium buckwheat.

For first-time buckwheat growers, setting the combine can be a challenge. The seed cleaning facility can remove short pieces of stem readily, but some new growers’ loads last fall could not be cleaned. They came with enough leaves and big plant pieces to clog the sieving tables and gravity flow. Combining green plants is different from other crops, and takes special techniques.

Low germination was found in more lots than usual of the non-Koto buckwheat that is sold for cover crop seed. Miller Andy Schuck speculated that seed that is drier than usual at harvest (14-16% moisture) is more fragile and requires gentler combining. Seed moisture ran relatively low last season.

Warm region production
Buckwheat production guidelines for the Northeast are largely based on conditions in central New York and Pennsylvania. In the outer parts of this production region, some adjustments need to be made to account for local limiting factors. One successful buckwheat producer outside the common production regions is David Campbell.

Campbell is an organic grain farmer about 40 miles west of Chicago, IL. This area has high-fertility soils and hot summers, conditions that are conducive to tall but poor-yielding buckwheat. Campbell accommodates these conditions by planting buckwheat on clayier soil, not on his best corn land. He also plants later than is usual in the Northeast. Both of these adjustments reduce vegetative growth and favor seed production. His planting target is July 20, so that the plants bloom in the cooler nights of late August. With the late planting, harvest is also fairly late. It is usually after a couple frosts, sometime between mid-October and early November.

Campbell controls vigor well, with the plants reaching the ideal height of 30-36 inches. Even so, lodging is common. Fortunately, lodged plants lift the grain just enough to get the combine head underneath. For a single crop, he expects yields of 30 bu/ac. Double crops after wheat are possible, but have a lower yield.

Buckwheat is mainly a catch crop on soybean land that could not be planted on time. For instance, in 2005, it became too dry to finish soybean planting. Rain later in July let him plant those last fields to buckwheat. The buckwheat option reduced the risk of planning soybean plantings optimistically. The buckwheat also left the soil in excellent condition for soybeans this year.

These ideas could apply in warm and fertile areas of the Northeast, such as the plains south of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The high yield potential could make it worth experimenting with the seeding date on the warmer edges of the buckwheat belt.

Research news
Some newer herbicides have been shown to inhibit buckwheat when the buckwheat is used as a second crop in the same season as the herbicide application. Work by Robin Bellinder at Cornell in 2005 showed that stunting of buckwheat seedlings was significant with Pursuit, Sandea and Reflex. These herbicides are used in early-season vegetables that might be followed with buckwheat. Buckwheat has long been known to be sensitive to the old herbicide, atrazine, but a second crop is rarely planted on fields where atrazine has been used.

The well-known benefit of allowing plowed-down organic matter to decompose before planting was sharply demonstrated in a trial by Björkman in 2005. Planting immediately after incorporating pea residue cut the stand by 50% compared to waiting a week. Heavier residue would take longer.

Changes at New Hope Mills
There have been big changes at New Hope Mills in recent years. Their water powered mill near Moravia, NY was a remarkable historic industrial site that began milling buckwheat in 1823. The operation has moved to a larger, modern plant in Auburn.

Donald Weed ground buckwheat on the stone mill until he retired. The mill bought buckwheat grain from local growers using traditional common buckwheat rather than new large-seeded varieties. With the closing of the old mill, the company now buys buckwheat flour from another heritage mill, The Birkett Mills in Penn Yan.

Doug Weed has begun a marketing effort to increase sales of their products nationally. They are attending food shows to attract greater attention to their brand, which could lead to grater demand for Northeastern buckwheat. The Old-Fashioned Buckwheat Pancake Mix is an important part of their line, and sales of that product remain steady.

The Auburn plant has much greater capacity than the one in New Hope. If that mill reaches capacity, they will restart the former Community Mill and Bean in Savannah, which they also own.

The vision for the old mill in New Hope is as a living museum. Many of the old technologies were in active use until a few years ago, and there are historically accurate settings to exhibit others. They began an annual festival last year, which will be held August 12 this year.

Nectar production in buckwheat
Honey production from buckwheat is notoriously variable. Some apiarists understandably suspect that the difference is due to varieties, but no research has tested that. One of the specific suggestions is that recently developed varieties do not produce nectar. A number of research publications describe work where the investigators measured nectar production during the day.

Jana Lee and George Heimpel measured nectar in Mancan buckwheat. Mancan is an early example of the larger seeded “Japanese-type” varieties. There was abundant nectar in mid-morning, but it had been removed by afternoon. Caged plants still had all the nectar until late afternoon.

Valérie Cawoy and her coworker showed that buckwheat flowers produce nectar all day, and they do so all season long. In the field, there was little or no nectar in flowers checked in the afternoon. They used La Harpe, a French variety with medium sized seed.

One idea is that bees may be foraging for either nectar or pollen, with pollen foragers making much less honey. That was not the case in an investigation by Russell Goodman and coworkers. They found that all the bees visiting buckwheat collected nectar, and about a third also collected pollen. However, they did not measure whether pollen-foragers collected less nectar. They used Manor, which is the large-seeded “Japanese-type” variety used almost exclusively in the Northeast from the mid-1980s through 1999.

The evidence is that Japanese-type varieties produce nectar, and that bees collect it. In fact, Northeastern apiarists sometimes had good honey yields when Manor was the only variety around, so it can be a good nectar source. Some alternative explanations for variation in honey production are weather conditions that either limit nectar production or dilute the nectar too much, and also competition from other flowers that are more attractive.

It is still unknown how different varieties adjust nectar production in response to dry conditions, and how much nectar needs to be in a buckwheat flower for bees to visit.


Previous | Next