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Information for Buckwheat Growers

Northeast Buckwheat Growers Newsletter

No. 5 May 1998
Edited by Thomas Bjorkman, Cornell NYSAES, Geneva NY

One of the things that members want from the Northeast Buckwheat Growers Association is the chance to share buckwheat growing ideas with other farmers. If an article in this newsletter reminds you of something that you have tried or have seen, please call the editor to help share it with your colleagues (Thomas Björkman at 315-787-2218). I'm happy to print your questions and comments here.

Buckwheat contracts
Now is the time to contract your buckwheat crop. Here is the news from some of the buyers.

Birkett Mills is actively contracting, advertising $12 per cleaned hundredweight FOB Penn Yan, NY. (315) 539-3111.

S.F. Scattergood has a dealer in Pennsylvania this year, so the crop can be delivered to Berwick, in Columbia County, about 20 miles southwest of Wilkes-Barre. Make contracts with Scattergood (800-362-7817) at $11.25/cwt for recleaned seed at 15% moisture, FOB Berwick. Garrison Farm and Feed in Berwick (717-759-7171), will receive, clean, dry and weigh the buckwheat.

In western Pennsylvania, Zanella Milling in West Sunbury (412-637-2864), and Roth Milling in Prospect (412-865-2327), both purchase buckwheat.

New Hope Mills in Moravia, NY (315-497-078), is making limited contracts in central New York.

AgriCulver (607-387-5788), in Mecklenburg, NY, is also making only limited contracts for milling and for Certified seed.

Hazleton Milling, in Bruceton Mills, WV (304-379-7755), mills buckwheat in the southern part of our area.

A hundred years ago, buckwheat was 60c/cwt, and corn 35c/cwt. It seems buckwheat prices have increased more than corn prices. If only we could say the same about those yields!

Field Day
The 1998 Buckwheat Field Day will be held on Tuesday, August 25, 1998, at the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY. This will be the fourth annual field day in Geneva.

The field day will be from 1 pm until 4 pm at the Vegetable Research Farm on County Rd. 4, about a mile west of the Station campus. Notices will be sent to NBGA members and to newspapers.

On the planned agenda are opportunities to discuss issues of interest to growers, a look at the plots of the buckwheat selection program, and a report from the 7th International Symposium on Buckwheat (see below for more on this symposium).

New variety: Manisoba
A new buckwheat variety called Manisoba will be tested on farms this year in cooperation with Birkett Mills. This variety has outperformed Manor by about 10% in research plots at several sites in New York in 1994 through 1997. Last summer it also yielded about 10% more than Manor in a commercial split-field trial. In a small milling test of about a ton, it showed no problems.

Manisoba kernels are more uniform in size, at the large end of what is normal for Manor. The test weight is still high. Its leaves are somewhat larger than Manor's, which is an advantage for growing in the Northeast.

Manisoba was released by Clayton Campbell at Agriculture Canada a few years ago. Dr. Campbell is also making the crosses for the Cornell breeding program.
After the 1998 growing season, Birkett Mills will test mill Manisoba on a larger scale. It may be available for grower contracts in 1999.

Buckwheat and the Northeast Buckwheat Growers Association are on the World Wide Web. Buckwheat information and back issues of this newsletter are available there.

Of particular interest is an online Buckwheat Production Guide for the Northeast. It has much basic information on raising buckwheat, as well as color photos of critical stages in buckwheat growth and harvest decisions. It is only available on the web.

If you want something on paper, the Birkett Mills production guide has recently been revised and is available from the company.

Empty kernels
A problem that was unusually common in 1997 was moderate-size plants (25-35" tall) with poor yields (1-5 bu/ac) and heads full of false kernels. These plants should have yielded well (>20 bu/ac) but they never filled the seeds. Your help on this mystery would be appreciated.

Since pollination is required for the kernels to even begin growing, poor pollination can't take the blame for this situation. Poor pollination usually leads to a few big seeds and a lot of brown flowers, but with few false kernels. (See the article below for more on pollination.)

Heat blasting kills the flower and, again, no kernel is formed. It was not an especially warm summer during the sensitive period, either. Heat seems doubtful as a reason.

This problem is also different from drought stress because the plants grew well. Drought stress was also common. Around August 1997 many farms had 3-6 weeks with essentially no rain. The resulting plants were only 10-15" tall, and yielded 8-10 bu/ac. Thats all that can be expected from plants so small.

Over-fertilization seems not to be the culprit either. Excessive nitrogen results in a jungle of plants over 40". These big plants also make empty kernels because they are busy growing, and forget to fill the seeds.

What the sites seem to have had in common is that mornings in late August and early September were still, warm, and humid (even foggy). During this period of rapid seed fill, these muggy mornings may have prevented normal development. This specific problem has not been clearly identified by researchers, and more growers observations are needed to get a good handle on it.

West Virginia buckwheat
The Northeast buckwheat region extends as far as West Virginia. Tom McConnell, a county agent and farmer from the Potomac Highlands, recently joined the NBGA. His county has had a buckwheat festival for 57 years. In fact, their success inspired the one in Penn Yan.

Wildlife pressure is even higher in West Virginia than it is further north. A local farmer was quoted in the paper before last years festival, saying, "What the deer don't get the turkeys do!" Even with all the wildlife damage, buckwheat is still in the rotation on some farms there.

Research News
Pollination. The recent widespread death of wild honey bees from trachea mites and varroa mites is a serious concern for buckwheat growers. Honey bees have been the most important pollinator of buckwheat. It takes at least a hive per acre to get the job done, but we have had that many bees in buckwheat country. With only commercial hives remaining, the numbers are way down.

To make sure that the bees in the area visit your buckwheat, it needs to be attractive to them. Researcher Rheal Lefrenier in Manitoba investigated bees' preferences during bloom time. He found that bees preferred clover over buckwheat. There are often pastures or hay fields with clover near buckwheat fields. They can distract the bees and thereby cut the buckwheat yield. It could be worthwhile to graze pastures or cut hay that is near buckwheat when the buckwheat is coming into bloom

Buckwheat makes more nectar when it has rained recently, which attracts more bees. They pollinate better because they eat more nectar and less pollen. That also means that they make more honey, which makes the apiarist happy.

Fertilizer. Many growers wonder whether they should add a little nitrogen fertilizer. In a trial at NYSAES in 1997, this question was tested. The trial was done on a Lima silt loam, pH 7 with 24 lb/ac P by the soil test.
The grain yield with no added N was 1.1 ton/ac, with 30 lb N/ac the yield was 1.2 T/ac, and with 60 lb N, 1.4 T/ac. The increase in yield barely paid for the nitrogen even at these relatively high yields. At typical 0.7 T/ac yields, N would not have been economical.

The downside is that the stover increased much more, from 2.6 T/ac (dry) to 3.0 and 3.6 T/ac. That made harvest more difficult on the high N plot. Furthermore, redroot pigweed broke through the buckwheat canopy in the high-nitrogen plots.

These results suggest that 20-30 lb/ac of N is plenty. This was on soil that was high in P. If there is less P, added nitrogen will drive vegetative growth even more.

The one situation where adding nitrogen is likely to be worthwhile is if the buckwheat is usually under 18" tall and there is adequate phosphorus.

International Symposium on Buckwheat
The International Buckwheat Research Association sponsors an international symposium every three years in a different country each time. The 7th symposium brings this meeting to North America for the first time. It with be held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Aug. 12-14, 1998. Hundreds of buckwheat researchers from around the word will gather to learn of new advances on this crop.

Other Buckwheat Associations
The Manitoba Buckwheat Growers Association has been in existence for several years. They lobby their state government on issues of importance to the growers. The publish a newsletter called The Groat.

They were recently successful in changing the Canadian Grain Commission grading standards--effective at the end of November, 1997. The old rules used hull color as a major criterion for grading buckwheat, while the producers and buyers were primarily interested in test weight. Growers were being unfairly downgraded on top-quality buckwheat. Now Canada No. 1 is buckwheat over 46.3 lb/bu and Canada No. 2 is over 44 lb/bu. There are also tight limits on damage and impurities, but color is not a factor.

They are working to become recognized by the provincial government as being the official organization representing Manitoba buckwheat growers. This gives the association a stronger voice in determining agricultural policy and spending.

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