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Information for Buckwheat Growers

Northeast Buckwheat Growers Newsletter

No. 31 June 2011
Edited by Thomas Bjorkman, Cornell NYSAES, Geneva NY

2011 Field Day
The 2011 Northeast Buckwheat Field Day will be held in Big Flats, NY at the USDA Plant Materials Center. The center's Martin Vander Grinten and Paul Salon hosted a well-received field day in 2005.

Elizabeth Dyck of the Organic Growers Research and Information Network will describe the benefits of local production and marketing of organic buckwheat seed for cover crop use. She is helping growers start up farm enterprises to be local supplies.

Thomas Björkman of Cornell will review buckwheat grain production methods, both for new and advanced buckwheat producers.

Field demonstrations will show how planting methods and plant populations affect weed suppression, branching, flower production, lodging resistance, and yield potential. The discussion will also review how this growing season will affect harvest timing, and how to assess it on your farm.

As always, the field day is a chance to meet fellow buckwheat growers and learn from them. The site is easily accessible from the southern Finger Lakes, the Genesee Valley, Cortland County, and northern Pennsylvania, where there are many current growers.

The field day will be rewarding whether you are an expert, or have just tried it a few times.

View NRCS Big Flats in a larger map


Contract prices make big jump
The Birkett Mills will be paying substantially higher prices in 2011. The new price is $27 for conventional and $31 for organic grain.

They are prepared to clean and dry grain after delivery for those who do not have the capacity.

More info at

Research notes—Phosphorus
In the latest issue of the scientific journal Fagopyrum, University of Tsukuba scientist Hisayoshi Hayashi reports on his studies of fertilizer on buckwheat growth. The characteristic volcanic soil in Japan is particularly good at fixing phosphorus. That is, applied phosphorus fertilizer is made unavailable to plants, and they see chronic phosphorus deficiencies.

Northeast soils don't immobilize phosphorus to the same extent, so the need for phosphorus fertilizer is small or none. However, it is useful to be aware of the symptoms, particularly on the low-pH soils of the Allegheny plateau. The main effect of P deficiency was small leaves and short stems. The leaves did not turn pale, as thewould if the plant was nitrogen deficient or suffering from drought or soil compaction. Buckwheat's sensitivity to P deficiency was similar to that in rye and peanut, while sweet potato was relatively insensitive.

Source: Hayashi, H. 2010. Contribution ratio of NPK elements for plant growth, yield and yield component if common buckwheat and sever other crops in a crop rotation on an Andosol soil. Fagopyrum 27: 21-29.

Site selection: avoid foggy mornings.
Rich soils near rivers often give lush buckwheat growth. But often there is not a correspondingly abundant seed yield.

The culprit can be poor pollination, for an unexpected reason. Fortunately the problem can be avoided if you know what to look for.

In river valleys, it is not unusual to have morning fog in August. Usually these are clear days everywhere else, and the fog burns of by late morning. The fog may not even make an impression on your memory of the day. That makes it easy to miss the fog that causes poor pollination.

If most of the day is sunny, why would a little fog in the morning be such a problem? Bees pollinate buckwheat for a few short hours in the morning, after the flowers have opened and also released pollen from the pollen sacs. On a foggy morning there are water droplets on the flowers. They open much later than usual. The local hive may be foraging somewhere else by the time the flowers open. Once they do open, many flowers will have a water droplet on the stigma, where the pollen is supposed to go. There may be water in the nectaries, diluting the nectar too much for it to be of interest to the bees. Finally, the bees are not too keen on stomping around in the puddles of a wet flower cluster. So not only is the attraction for bees much lower, the wet stigma does not capture the pollen even if bees bring some.

The satellite photos show a typical late-summer morning, with widespread valley fog disappearing over a few hours. Fields in such valleys are not well suited to buckwheat grain production.

Fog fading from river valleys

NOAA August 6, 2006

Morning fog in valleys of northern Pennsylvania and New York's Southern Tier. Buckwheat pollination is poor when fog wets the flowers during the morning pollination period. It is risky to try to raise buckwheat in valleys prone to such fog on August mornings.

Production notes—double crop
Wheat producers in southern Pennsylvania and Ohio sometimes double crop buckwheat after wheat. In New York, early wheat harvest can also create that opportunity where fall frost comes late and when wheat harvest comes early.

Wheat harvest at 21 or 22% moisture is increasingly common in order to avoid sprouting and head blight. The cost of drying the grain is increasingly outweighed by the value of the quality benefits. The buckwheat benefit is that the earlier harvest allows timely planting.

Buckwehat planting is later than ideal (July 15 or so) but still worthwhile. The challenge of this double cropping is when the wheat has depleted soil fertility or soil moisture. If the nutrients are gone, judicious use of fertilizer helps. More nitrogen is needed if the wheat residue is tilled in than if the ground has been in no-till for years.

Buckwheat frenzy in Eastern Europe continues
The depletion of international buckwheat reserves as a result of last years drought in Russia has continued to have repercussions. Regional supplies ran out in Belarus and Ukraine, precipitating national crises.

Since buckwheat has long been the one secure food in places where there is a strong memory of food insecurity, seeing empty shelves or exorbitant prices has caused an especially visceral reaction.

I received a call at Cornell from a trader trying to locate "some" buckwheat. Neither Birkett Mills nor MinnDak had any to sell. It turned out that the party wanted 25,000 tons. That is approximately two years of US production, so I wasn't able to help.

Not long thereafter, news reports came out that Ukrainian officials had purchased that amount from China, even though the last of the Chinese crop wasn't of the quality they liked. The price they paid was about 2½ times what they expected (Kyiv Post May 7, 2011). Most of the delivery should occur during the summer, to hold them until the fall harvest.

Production Notes—Heavy soil
The rainy April and May have caused a lot of intended corn ground to become soybean ground. Even so, there will be open ground when it is too late to plant more soybeans.

Often the last ground to dry out in this situation is quite heavy. Planting this heavy ground to buckwheat has two significant benefits, and a couple of risks.

The first benefit is that buckwheat can yield very well, particularly if the rest of the season is dry. Yields of 1500 lb can be anticipated. The second benefit is that buckwheat can make dramatic improvements in tilth on these soils. Many growers have told of heavy ground that has taken a lot of power to plow works up easily after buckwheat. The benefit to next year's crop, including timelier planting, may be particularly impressive.

The first risk of sowing buckwheat in this situation is drowning. Buckwheat seeds and seedlings do not tolerate standing water, even for just a few hours. If it keeps raining, these are the fields where such waterlogging is most likely to happen. A bad stand is usually obvious after two or three weeks. In that situation, incorporating at four or five weeks and planting a fall crop may be the best option. The second risk is excess vininess. With very rich soils, high fertility and reasonable water, buckwheat plants can grow very large. Five feet tall or more. Such large plants put the extra weight into the stems, instead of into grain, so the grain yield is no greater than on normal-sized plants. However, the large plants are much more difficult to combine.

New web address for Cornell buckwheat information
A reorganization of departments and computers at Cornell has put the buckwheat website in a new web address.

To find it easily, please bookmark