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Information for Buckwheat Growers

Northeast Buckwheat Growers Newsletter

No. 22 September 2006
Edited by Thomas Bjorkman, Cornell NYSAES, Geneva NY

2006 Field Day
The twelfth annual Northeast Buckwheat Field Day was held August 29, 2006 in Geneva, NY.

This field day returned to the Vegetable Research Farm at Cornell’s Geneva Experiment Station where it was held for the first five years. Field plots were used to show variations that would be risky for growers to try on their own fields.

New self-compatible varieties developed for grain production and cover crop use by Kade Research in Manitoba. These varieties all started growing slowly, but put on a good burst of growth beginning in mid-August. The grain variety, ‘Koma,’ had promising amounts of seed, but had let weeds compete early and had lodged in the rain. A separate large-scale yield trial in LeRoy will be more definitive. The cover crop types have a distinctive low form for the first month, which helps them smother weeds even better. These breeding lines had the right form, but the slower early growth let weeds come through that were stopped by the faster conventional buckwheat. Improvements in vigor are anticipated in more advanced material. The self-compatible characteristic permits faster advances in combining available traits.

Seeding methods that provide the best establishment at the least cost after harvesting vegetables. The classic rotation of following canning peas was used here. The ground was too hard after pea harvest for no-till to give good growth. The best preparation was incorporation of the pea residue followed by a week of rest for it to decompose. That way there was no loss of seedlings to rot in the fresh residue, and growth was not inhibited by hard soil.

Varying the sowing date. Planting dates from May 17 to August 17 were tested. See "Research news" below for results.

2006 Season Notes
This summer had unusually high temperatures, which could be damaging to buckwheat flowers. For the most part, the heat came too early to cause substantial yield losses. The two heat spells were in mid July (7/17-19) and late July (7/27-8/3). For buckwheat sown in early July, the second hot period came just as the flowers were coming into bloom. Heavy rainfall in late June and again about July 20 prevented planting or hurt recently seeded crops.

In the plains, similar timing of heat spells was a problem because they sow in early June. Paul Belzer of MinnDak, Dickinson, ND reports that the crop of seed normally set in July was largely absent, and the that harvest will consist mostly of August-set seed. That has put harvest about a week behind normal. The effect on yield remains to be seen.

Growers prioritize buckwheat research and extension needs
At the 2006 Buckwheat Field Day, growers participated in a workshop to identify and prioritize things that limited their success in buckwheat production, as well as research and extension needs to address those.

Workshops like this one are invaluable for documenting industry needs in applications for the funding that makes research and extension possible. The major sources of funding for applied research have begun to require documentation that the project goals respond to industry needs that were identified through a formal process.

The workshop was led by Dr. Julie Kikkert, an extension specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Vegetable Team.

Growers identified these barriers to success for buckwheat farmers:

  • low revenue per acre restricting the potential for production inputs
  • modest yields, including harvest losses
  • Wildlife damage, and the limitations on control of deer and turkeys
  • high fuel prices, including getting the product to market 
  • sensitivity of buckwheat to adverse weather

Priority research projects included:

  • harvest issues: uniform seed maturity, harvester operation, dry-down of crop, and access to wet fields
  • double-cropping opportunities
  • fertility recommendations
  • increasing consumer demand, especially by capitalizing on health benefits
  • capturing the value of buckwheat for subsequent crops. Soil improvement and weed reduction.
  • optimizing buckwheat production in no-till rotations

Research news
Pushing the planting date. As part of a study on using buckwheat as a summer cover crop, the Björkman lab wanted to see how far into the spring or fall buckwheat can be planted and still make a good stand—disregarding whether it will make a good crop. Fall planting may grow well but get frosted off; spring plantings will suffer from heat blasting. To measure how good early growth was, they measured how tall the plants were when they first flowered, usually a month after sowing. The 2006 results (pictured above) show that growth was fine in all plantings during June and August, but earlier and later, it was too cold. The August 15 sowing started strong, providing 83% ground cover at 3 weeks, the best of any date, but then the cool nights of mid-September took their toll and the plants stopped growing.

The last few years, the first killing frost has been unusually late for many. It may be tempting to plant later and take a chance that frost is late. These results show that July plantings may get away with it, but August brings a high risk of a poor crop.

Beneficial insects. Buckwheat is attractive to beneficial insects, so a group in Oregon set out to compare it with other insectary plants raised next to broccoli fields. The other plants were alyssum, phacelia and coriander. Buckwheat was average in this group for bringing in hoverflies, with coriander being best. Buckwheat was the only plant to bring in predatory wasps. It was also good at ladybeetles, which is commonly known, but it also brought in the similar-looking pest, the cucumber beetle.

  • Ambrosino, M. D., Luna, J. M., Jepson, P. C., Wratten, S. D. 2006. Relative Frequencies of Visits to Selected Insectary Plants by Predatory Hoverflies (Diptera: Syrphidae), Other Beneficial Insects, and Herbivores. Environmental Entomology 35: 394-400.

Buckwheat and health. Researchers investigating the health benefits of buckwheat are intrigued by its triple benefit for a common modern syndrome. It reduces cholesterol, moderates symptoms of diabetes, and reduces hemorrhaging from high blood pressure. A recent paper has identified the substance that actually reduces blood pressure. Many blood pressure medications are so-called ACE inhibitors. Buckwheat flour contains a potent ACE inhibitor, 2-hydroxy nicotianamine, at about 300 ppm.  While regular nicotianamide is common in plants, and is present in buckwheat shoots, it is absent from the seed.  Researchers expected to find nicotianamide in flour since 1983, when they discovered buckwheat’s ACE-inhibitory effects. The fact that it is a derivative made it hard to find. Clinical studies are underway to document the extent of blood pressure reduction due to this compound.

Buying & shipping used swathing equipment
Matt Warmka, an NBGA member in southern Minnesota, sees a lot of small and medium sized swathers and pickup heads going unused in his area. What is interesting for Northeast farmers is that he is willing to help arrange trucking at a reasonable cost. He regularly sends truckloads of farm equipment to the Northeast. Sending one more piece to you would not add so much to the cost. His telephone number is (507) 327-3541.

Harvest reminders
Here are some ideas that are probably familiar, but may worth a reminder.

  • Cut high. If the crop is tall, there will be very little grain in the lower half of the plant. When direct combining, there is already a lot of green stuff going through the combine, so raising the head can let you move more easily. When swathing, the crop will cure better and withstand more bad weather if there is plenty of air circulation underneath.
  • Harvest at the right time. In some places, the plants are fully green and flowering, in others they are almost bare. It’s worth checking. For direct combining, feel if grain is letting go. Ignore what leaves are doing. The seed is loosest in the afternoon, so consider that when scheduling on harvest day. If you are combining on a warm day, it will be worth readjusting after lunch. 
  • If the seeds come off too easily, they can shatter onto the ground. Harvesting in the early morning helps then. If the seeds don’t come off easily, it may be hard to get the seed while leaving the concaves open enough to let the stems and leaves through. In that case, wait until afternoon or a couple more days.
  • For swathing, the time to cut is earlier, when some seeds still have green on them.
  • Slow the cylinder way down to keep from breaking seeds. Run the fan high; leaving it low just gets dockage and risk of heating. Check what is coming out the back.

Improvements coming to the buckwheat website
The buckwheat website will be undergoing renovations to make it more attractive, easier to navigate, and to add more production information. The site includes information on the NBGA, newsletters, summaries of field days, and the Buckwheat Production Guide.

Because many farms are in rural areas without broadband, the site will still be designed with a modem connection in mind. It will have a simple design that is understandable even with picture loading off. Pictures are helpful for many concepts, so big pictures will be available a click away.

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