Skip to main content

Information for Buckwheat Growers

Northeast Buckwheat Growers Newsletter

No. 10 September 2000
Edited by Thomas Bjorkman, Cornell NYSAES, Geneva NY

Spot market for 2000 crop
The Birkett Mills, despite making a record number of contracts in 2000, sees additional demand. They anticipate buying more buckwheat on the open market. The open market price is somewhat lower than the contract price of $10.25 per hundred pounds. Still, this can represent an opportunity to sell grain for the many growers who sowed buckwheat as a cover crop this summer.

Watch out for waterlogging
The devastating effects of waterlogging around germinating buckwheat seeds was evident all over the Northeast this year. Stunted plants and sparse stands could be seen in any low spot and was especially apparent on heavier soils. Some of these were the same fields that produced well in 1999, when their water-holding capacity was a big advantage.

Trials with Apron fungicide were conducted in Geneva. Apron suppresses pythium, a fast-acting seed pathogen that is especially virulent when standing water exists. If pythium causes the seed rot that accounts for some of the stunting, Apron could be an effective protectant.

Apron did improve stand counts in some plantings, and also increased plant size at flowering. But the effect was rather small; plantings with severe stand reduction still had severe stand reduction even with the protection afforded by Apron.

The best management continues to be practices that reduce puddling and allow water to drain past the seed zone. This was not enough on the fields that got "showers" of 3 and 4 inches falling on saturated ground, but it does help in most years.

2000 Field Day
Farmers came not only from central New York, but from as far away as Hamilton, Ontario and Chautauqua Co. in the west, the St. Lawrence Valley in the north, near Boston in the East, and Pennsylvania in the south. Growers are finding it valuable to travel far to meet experienced growers and discuss the fine points of getting a better buckwheat crop, taking full advantage of the benefits of buckwheat in the rotation, and working it better into their farm operation.

A special appearance was made by Dr. Clayton Campbell of Kade Research in Morden, Manitoba. He is the man who bred all the varieties used in New York since the 1970's. He described the genotypes on trial at ACDS and his breeding objectives.

One of the traits that we can expect to see is higher test weight. The shape of the seed makes it pack together better. The current variety, Manisoba, has a tendency to have low test weights if it is stressed. Koto is the first of the high test weight lines, with later releases higher still.

The color of the new varieties stands out in contrast to the familiar brown Manor. Koto, Keukett, and all the numbered lines here have a black hull. Kade Research is also actively developing self-pollinated varieties that will have a silver hull. The hull color will be used to distinguish the two types, and have nothing to do with flavor or other characteristics of the grain.

Dr. Campbell is also breeding for earliness. Earliness is needed to make the grain mature evenly in Manitoba. One of our advantages here is that buckwheat tends to ripen abruptly late in September. This helps us get more uniformity in ripening and better recovery of the grain.

The earliness of a variety in Manitoba is not at all a predictor of earliness in New York. The behavior here is hard to predict and is an important reason for these trials.

Changing the propensity to ripen can affect our yield potential. Koto is genetically programmed to ripen at a certain time, while Keukett relies more on environmental signs. In most years, they ripen together here. However, Koto might handle somewhat higher fertility if its genetics stop vegetative growth late in the season. On the other hand, Keukett has the potential to take greater advantage of good growing conditions in September. Further on-farm testing in New York will reveal when each has the advantage.

In our tradition of discovering new buckwheat foods at the field day, we had two items this year. Lisa Blanchard baked cookies using whole buckwheat groats, and Hiroshi and Kiyoko Fuji brought back a buckwheat beer from the Rogue Brewery in Oregon. Good stuff that was appreciated all around.

Buckwheat for forage
With delayed crop planting and missed hay harvest this year, late plantings of buckwheat are being eyed for their forage value by some dairy farmers. If a farmer is coming up short on the forage production and has some land cover cropped to buckwheat, forage is a historic use that can be worth considering.

There is no question that cattle will happily eat buckwheat. In fact, buckwheat straw can't be used as bedding for that reason.

But what is the forage value of buckwheat? To answer that question, Cornell professors Thomas Bjorkman of Horticultural Sciences and Larry Chase of Animal Science had some samples of buckwheat analyzed by the Dairy One lab in Ithaca.

The buckwheat was picked when the grains were 30-50% brown. The seeds had mostly filled, but were not yet hard. It would be perhaps 3-4 weeks before they would be combined for grain.

The results indicate that buckwheat harvested as hay has about 9% protein (similar to corn silage), 36% ADF and 43% NDF, similar to good quality alfalfa hay, and 72% in vitro total digestibility, also similar to good alfalfa. Buckwheat hay should be similar to forages that dairy farmers are familiar with, and has good digestibility. The protein would need to be raised to make a balanced ration.

The value of buckwheat forage can be calculated based on the fiber content. If alfalfa hay costs $100 per ton, buckwheat would be worth about $65 per dry ton. The dry matter yield in a weak stand (20-24" high) would be 1 ton per acre, and in a strong stand (30-36" high), 2-3 tons. Depending on your feed needs, this could be a competitive use for a late crop or one showing poor seed set.

The main concern is that a skin rash can develop if light-colored cows are fed a ration of greater than 30% buckwheat and they are in the sun. Most dairies wouldn't have that much buckwheat to feed, and sunshine is rare enough in a Northeastern winter that this concern might be small. It is also possible to feed grain buckwheat, but is has no outstanding value compared to other feedstuffs.

Under normal conditions, corn and soybeans are easier to grow and cheaper to buy than buckwheat. However, buckwheat for feed can make sense in short-season areas where the land base is more than can be planted to other crops. It can also make sense to feed buckwheat grain if an open market is not available, or if the amount produced on the farm can't be economically trucked to the buyer. Dairy farms in Northern New York with a field or two of buckwheat may be in this situation. A fact sheet on the feed value of buckwheat by Drs. Chase and Bjorkman will be added to the online Buckwheat Production Guide soon.

How much could buckwheat yield under perfect conditions?
Pete McCray asked how much he might be able to increase his yields from the current 40 bu/ac. Asked another way; "if everything were perfect, how much would buckwheat yield in the Northeast?"

As background, a common yield under normal management and with typical weather is 15 bu/ac. With better sites and timely seeding and harvest, some growers get 20-25 bu/ac. Given good luck with weather, the best sites, and attentive management, 30-40 bu/ac are seen. How high can it go?

The main limitation here is the length of the season. With 70 days to grow, the crop can only produce so much dry matter. Ideally, buckwheat will put 45% of the dry matter into grain. The best we can do is about 3 ton/ac of dry matter production, which would give 50-55 bu/ac. That theoretical maximum yield is based on how much photosynthesis the plants can do in the allotted time.

Greater yield potential would require a longer growing season and varieties that would exploit it. However, where a longer growing season is available, Northeastern growers tend to raise other crops.

It is possible to grow big buckwheat plants in 70 days, but they don't give the 45% harvest index. That ratio remains true only up to about 1.5 T/ac of dry matter production (0.75 ton grain or 30 bu). After that, there is no increase in grain production with plant size on average, although some farms seem to have a higher cutoff.

A major goal of the germplasm improvement process has been to keep the high harvest index going in larger plants. This would enable more fertilizer to be used, and thereby use the 70 days of sunlight more effectively. We have tried to do that by using a more determinate type, like Koto, but the effect is relatively small. There have been no breakthroughs for raising the harvest index of big plants.

Washington State has the highest yields in North America. There, buckwheat is grown on deep, rich, well-drained volcanic soil with irrigation. They have long clear days and cool nights. They can also stretch the buckwheat growing period a couple weeks longer. All of these favorable factors increase the potential yield. They average about 35 bu/ac, with good yields in the low 50s.

A yield of 45, possibly 50 bu/ac, may be achievable in the Northeast with ideally suited varieties (including finding one that can be planted a little earlier), and good weather. Probably more effective for the moment is working on getting 40-45 bushels on as much ground as possible and in as many years as possible.

Finding the ideal site and caring for it properly is the basis for high buckwheat yields, as it is for most other crops. Soil with good drainage, high water-holding capacity, and aggregate structure are important. For good pollination, there should be abundant pollinator activity, and the flowers should dry off early in the day. A few nights in the 40s late in August or early in September get the ripening process moving along.

Long-time growers of buckwheat have seen fields yield 50 bu/ac on rare occasions, so this maximum estimate is supported by experience.

Update from Manitoba
The Manitoba Buckwheat Growers Association's summer tour in Morden included variety trials, some new buckwheat types under development, and herbicide trials. Since Manitoba growers plant in cooler soil, weed pressure is a significant problem there.

Previous | Next