Skip to main content

Information for Buckwheat Growers

Northeast Buckwheat Growers Newsletter

No. 25 June 2008
Edited by Thomas Bjorkman, Cornell NYSAES, Geneva NY

Field Day on August 26, 2008
The fourteenth annual Northeast Buckwheat Field Day will held August 26, 2008 at the Gianforte farm in Cazenovia, NY. The location east of Syracuse will be more convenient for those in the area that includes Cortland, Rome, and Watertown, who have not been able to attend previous field days.
The program will include discussion of different production practices and how they affect crop growth and yield.

For the first time at a field day, we’ll have a chance to look at harvest equipment. Pete Gianforte has been successful with the swather and pickup he acquired a few years ago. Attendees will get a chance to see a swather that cuts buckwheat into windrows and a pickup head that feeds the windrow into the combine. This system is particularly valuable where the grain matures before the leaves are lost, where rain can interfere with harvest, or where large acreage needs to be covered.

Announcements will be mailed in late July. Updated information will also be on the website:

New York grain price up $5
For Birkett Mills, the 2008 price for growers is $20 per hundredweight, and $23 for organic buckwheat on contracts over 50 acres. That is an increase of five dollars (33%) over last year.

Birkett Mills is interested in having a grower increase seed of a new variety. If someone has a site that is isolated from other buckwheat varieties and can produce up to 50 acres, please contact Cliff Orr at 315-536-3311.
The new buckwheat variety is called Koma. It is self-compatible, so it is expected to yield better if pollination has been limiting. It also has a habit that is more determinate, which could be valuable in producing higher yields with greater fertility. A seed increase will allow yield trials to be conducted in New York to see whether this variety has promise for raising or stabilizing yield.

Production notes
Production costs up. With the price of diesel fuel and fertilizer rising abruptly, all farmers are having to re-evaluate field operations, and consider where fuel savings offset other advantages of old operations.

For growers who need to limit production costs, buckwheat helps reduce the effect of these cost increases. Field operations are field preparations, seeding, and harvest. Many farmers can substitute chisel plowing for moldboard plowing to reduce fuel use. Eliminating tillage is unwise for buckwheat because its roots do not penetrate hard soil well. While buckwheat will do fine in established no-till, is not a good choice during the conversion to no-till.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service publishes custom rates for operations in Pennsylvania that provide a useful benchmark to see the effect of higher fuel cost. Plowing and disking now come in at $17-$18 per acre. Harrowing is $14. Sowing with a drill is $15 and broadcasting is $11. Combining is $28. The range for each of these rates is large, so they may not reflect your cost.

High fertilizer costs should have little effect on buckwheat producers because buckwheat generally requires little or no fertilizer. The residual fertility from previous crops or organic matter breakdown is sufficient on productive crop ground. On low-fertility or low-organic-matter soils, nitrogen rates are still quite low, with 25 or 30 lb/acre of nitrogen being common. However, if 200 lb of 15-15-15 costs over $60, the economic return of applying it may not be enough.

Higher crop prices. The high price of corn has resulted in higher prices paid for all other crops. Even buckwheat is up by a third. At current prices and yields, field crops in New York are grossing in the neighborhood of $600 per acre. All over the country, the high commodity prices have made it difficult to estimate production of minor crops like buckwheat.

Buckwheat will likely be produced by farmers with the specialized production knowledge, suitable soils, a farm operation where buckwheat is efficient to produce. It won’t be chosen because of the return per acre, but because of a good return on time and money invested in production.

New ground in production. Another result of high crop prices is that some farmers are returning idle land to crop production. For those farmers, using buckwheat as the first crop can be an excellent move. Buckwheat will suppress the flush of weeds that typically shows up when the ground is first worked. It allows the accumulated organic matter to break down, leading to an easily workable soil the following year. The organic matter break-down ties up most of the soil nitrogen for a few months. Buckwheat tolerates that tie-up where other crops would require large amounts of expensive nitrogen fertilizer to counteract it.

For those bringing land into production with an eye to both cash flow and soil productivity, there is a promising scenario. Till the ground in late May or early June when the moisture is ideal for it to work up easily. Let breakdown get started. Harrowing every 10-14 days will help the breakdown and kill weed seedlings. In early July, sow to buckwheat. In late September, windrow and combine the buckwheat. Sell the buckwheat and plant wheat.

The new Buckwheat Cover Crop Handbook describes other ways to use buckwheat to make idle ground productive farmland.

Buckwheat cover crop handbook
For the past several years, a team of Cornell researchers has been working on a NE-SARE funded project to revitalize the use of buckwheat as a precise weed control tool in the Northeast. A result of this work is the Buckwheat Cover Crop Handbook.

To keep the handbook short, it contains only what growers need to do and why. The substantial research and testing that went into determining the right procedures is not included, but there is a lot of experience behind every recommendation. A significant part of that experience is from NBGA members who generously shared their knowledge both of what works and what to avoid.

We identified four niches crops in modern cropping systems where a buckwheat cover crop is particularly valuable.

  • After early vegetables
  • In preparation for strawberries
  • Bringing idle land back into production
  • As a nurse crop for late-summer forage establishment

The handbook is designed to fit in a pocket, with a cover that can handle life in the barn or the truck, because that is where users will want the information that’s in it. The specific instructions for the four main scenarios are also provided on water-resistant cards that can be kept in a place that’s convenient for checking the next step during the season.

Electronic versions (PDF and HTML) of the brochure are available at

Heavy-duty print copies are available at the Station online bookstore for $2.50.

Members of NBGA are receiving a free copy in this newsletter mailing, or through earlier mailings through other organizations.

North American buckwheat production
Manitoba. Stan Skrypetz at the Canadian agricultural statistics agency reports that production and supply decreased in 2007-2008 from 2006-2007 because of a lower seeded area. The seeded area decreased because prices for many alternative crops rose sharply, whereas prices for buckwheat rose only slightly, making buckwheat a less attractive crop to produce. For 2008-2009, prices of buckwheat need to increase significantly in order to maintain or increase the seeded area, as prices of many alternative crops have increased much more significantly than have buckwheat prices.

Rejean Picard at the Manitoba agriculture department reports that the major shipper of buckwheat, Viterra (formerly Agricore), will no longer be handling buckwheat. There are now two processors in Manitoba, Keystone Grain and WestCanAgra, who will handle about 4,000 acres. Contract prices are C$22-24 per hundredweight. With production down about 80% from two years ago, the remaining growers are those whose soils most benefit from buckwheat as a rotation crop.

North Dakota. South of the border in North Dakota, Minn-Dak Growers Ltd is buying buckwheat for $26-27 per hundredweight. They continue to be the major buckwheat buyer in the central US. Owner Harris Peterson says that he is working to assure a strong market for buckwheat in coming years.

Washington. Gaylin Davies of McKay Seeds reports that the three companies in the Columbia Valley are contracting at $25-27 per hundredweight FOB mill at 16% moisture with adjustment for dockage and test weight.

Export market. Japan accounted for about 55% of the world imports, with the balance going mainly to countries in the European Union. About 80% of Japanese imports in 2006 were from China, although its share decreased from previous years. The second and third largest exporters to Japan were the US and Canada, with the US share increasing and the Canadian share decreasing from previous years.

New Hampshire coop plans to process buckwheat
A small farmers coop in northern New Hampshire is planning to raise and process buckwheat for local consumption. The North Country Farm Fresh Co-op is a group of fifteen farms centered in Colebrook, a farming area between Dixville Notch and the Connecticut River.

Northern New Hampshire is relatively isolated from markets, so the coop serves to provide a local market for growers, provide a good supply of local food for the region's residents, and allow a joint effort to establish processing and distribution that is not possible for single farms.

Coop members have experience with buckwheat as a cover crop and are eager to produce it for grain. However, there has been no grain buyer close enough to make buckwheat farming economical. They also value the farm diversification that it brings without requiring a lot of capital investment in specialized equipment. The town is the site of a working grist mill.

Demand is strong from coop customers, who include individuals, restaurants, and markets. Coop organizer and marketer, Julie Moran, says that interest from those who are wheat intolerant is a driving force.

Previous | Next