Skip to main content

Information for Buckwheat Growers

Northeast Buckwheat Growers Newsletter

No. 1 May 1996
Edited by Thomas Bjorkman, Cornell NYSAES, Geneva NY

Buckwheat growers organize
Several long-time buckwheat growers who attended a buckwheat field day at Cornell's Geneva Experiment Station last summer saw the need for an organization that would help buckwheat growers communicate with each other and keep up with what is happening in the buckwheat world.

It is helpful to discuss growing practices with fellow growers to help fine tune your own operation. Ron Hudek of Johnstown, PA has grown buckwheat for 20 years in rotation with corn so that he can eliminate grass weeds. Buckwheat is excellent for suppressing grasses, but I have had problems with yields lately, he says. I need more information to help me decide what to do about it. A grower organization would help me find that information.

Having an organized presence is also useful for getting research and extension programs developed through the land-grant universities. Stan Van Vleet plants over 100 acres of buckwheat on his Lodi, NY farm. In prime buckwheat country, he gets excellent stands but is often disappointed with the yields. Nevertheless, he likes getting a reasonable guaranteed price for the crop even when prices for other grains are very low. Van Vleet says, buckwheat would be more than just a minor crop for me if we could get the yields up. Forming a grower group could get us more clout with the college to speed development of a better variety.

Lee Johnson, a leadership development specialist at Yates Assn. of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Penn Yan, NY agreed to help the group form. She has experience in assisting groups of people put together organizations to serve their purposes.

A small second meeting at Penn Yan in April led to several suggestions for how to proceed:

  • Have a newsletter to let growers keep in touch with each other and share relevant happenings
  • Have buckwheat-related sessions at grower conferences, such as the NYS Vegetable Conference.
  • Have get-togethers for buckwheat growers at conferences or shows that they attend anyway.
  • Organize field days for growers to look at buckwheat crops and farming practices, and to compare notes on how they are doing.

The group also needs a name. One popular suggestion is The Buckwheat for Profit Club. This name was originated by the Notre Dame Buckwheat for Profit Club, a group of growers near Notre Dame-des-Lourdes in Manitoba. Club Founder Norman Prejet says that this club is useful for the local growers to compare notes and identify their needs. It has now developed into a province-wide organization, The Manitoba Buckwheat Growers Association, that works with the provincial government to assist buckwheat growers there. Mr. Prejet found the name conveyed the right ideas to other growers and to their customers, and he thought it could serve a Northeast Buckwheat for Profit Club well.

If you have other ideas on ways that buckwheat growers can help each other, or know of good events where buckwheat growers can meet, please contact Lee Johnson at Yates-CCE, 110 Court St., Penn Yan, NY 14527.

Progress in selecting new varieties for the Northeast
It has been many years since the development of a variety of buckwheat specifically for Eastern buckwheat production. Demand has shifted to larger-seeded types, but all the new large-seeded varieties were optimized for the northern plains. This will change within a few years as a result of a collaborative breeding program between Clayton Campbell of Kade Research in Morden, Manitoba and Thomas Björkman of Cornell University. Dr. Campbell is the premier buckwheat breeder in North America, and Dr. Björkman has been doing research on buckwheat locally since 1990.

This effort, funded largely by Birkett Mills, has already identified traits that improve crop performance here, but are not good in the plains. In the Northeast, later-maturing varieties and larger seeded varieties do better. This is good news, because later varieties have higher yield potential, and larger seeds are more desired for milling.

Another breeding program of interest to Eastern growers is taking place at W.G. Thompson in Ontario. Buckwheat specialist John Cloud and cereal breeder Les Shugar are testing material for heat tolerance. The lack of heat tolerance is a major limitation to producing buckwheat in the Northeast. It is the reason that buckwheat is planted so late, and a reason for crop loss when there is a late, hot summer as there was in 1995. They have applied severe heat pressure and narrowed the populations down to a few that look good. They hope to have the first variety from this program developed within two years. The seed will be available through Hyland Seeds.

Where did common buckwheat go?
Until the early 1970s, common buckwheat, often known as Silverhull, was the main variety. It was developed in this region from the buckwheat brought to America by Dutch settlers of the Hudson Valley in the 1600s. This small-seeded buckwheat can't compete with the new, larger-seeded varieties for the groat or noodle markets. The groats are too small and there is too much hull. It does work well for pancake mixes, and New Hope Mills buys substantial quantities for that purpose. Common buckwheat has become uncommon because the newer varieties are more versatile in processing, but the yields of common buckwheat are fondly remembered by those who grew it.

Buckwheat regions of the East
Buckwheat is grown in those areas where there is a 70-day growing season between the heat of summer and frost. The best buckwheat regions are rather localized. Early crops are planted on the Allegheny Plateau in northwest Pennsylvania and western New York, the St. Lawrence Valley of northern New York, and the upper Connecticut River Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire. A little later, buckwheat is planted in the Finger Lakes region in central New York, most of northern Maine, and southeast Pennsylvania. There is also an opportunity for planting even later, mid- to late July, where the water delays the first frost along the Great Lakes in Ohio and New York, and along the coast in southern Maine.

Who is buying?
The Birkett Mills, of Penn Yan, NY, is the big buckwheat buyer in the East. Buying over 10,000 tons every year, they are the producer of many different buckwheat products: flour, plain groats, kasha in different sizes, pancake mixes and mulch for fancy roses. Cliff Orr is responsible for the buckwheat operations, and is well known for his efforts to increase the visibility of buckwheat. The effort that is probably the best known in the community is the annual Buckwheat Harvest Festival in Penn Yan.

New Hope Mills in Moravia, NY is increasing its buckwheat purchases every year. Currently processing several thousand tons, Miller Donald Weed sees steady growth in their flour and pancake mixes. To meet their needs, they buy from as far away as Virginia and Canada. They also grow a substantial amount on their own farm. The mill is likely to begin producing groats before long, for which their need for buckwheat may double. New Hope still processes the old common buckwheat in addition to the newer varieties.

AgriCulver in Trumansburg, NY is a dealer of seed and grain that contracts with many growers. The main part of the buckwheat operation is growing for Certified seed. Owner Bill Kenney notes that there is more to it than growing market buckwheat. They also contract certified Organic buckwheat. Both Certified seed and Certified Organic grain require field inspections and other assurances that they meet the extra specifications. Kenney says, "Organic buckwheat is a developing market, and we are an OCIA certified facility."

Community Mill and Bean in Savannah, NY contracts up to 50 tons of organic buckwheat every year. Craig Junge, the buyer for CM&B says they often buy from brokers because growers can be hard to find. The demand for organic buckwheat remains strong.

Future newsletters
I plan on putting this letter out in May and September. One of the most useful things it can do is to help buckwheat growers share questions and ideas on how to handle this crop. If you have a question for your fellow growers, put it on a postcard and send it to me. I will put it in the newsletter and well see what responses we get. Likewise, if you have answers to questions, or ideas to share with other buckwheat growers, please send them to me at Dept. of Horticultural Sciences, Cornell-NYSAES, Geneva, NY 14456.

More interest in buckwheat as planting delays continue?
Many growers who have high-fertility fields that dry out late in the spring use them effectively for buckwheat production. That is one of the beneficial special uses of this crop. In 1996, the wet spring is making many more fields fall into this category. Some fields intended for corn or soybeans may remain unplanted when it is too late to plant these crops. Such fields are likely to produce good buckwheat yields. The main concerns in this situation is to avoid carryover of herbicides and excess nitrogen.