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Information for Buckwheat Growers

Northeast Buckwheat Growers Newsletter

No. 2 September 1996
Edited by Thomas Bjorkman, Cornell NYSAES, Geneva NY

The Northeast Buckwheat Growers Association
The feedback from growers about the name of the organization favored Northeast Buckwheat Growers Association. That is the name we will use from here on out.

This association has been proposed as a way for growers to get more recognition for the buckwheat industry. Several growers have agreed to form a steering committee to formally create the group and adopt bylaws. In adopting the bylaws, the committee will set the priorities and goals of the association. It will also determine whether to raise money and whether to collect money through dues. The results will be in the spring newsletter.

Some of the main reasons for forming the group are to:

  • Exchange information among growers
  • Improve communication between growers and processors.
  • Organize sessions on buckwheat at conferences and shows
  • Organize field days to improve farming practices.
  • Obtain more visibility for the industry with cooperative extension, and with local legislators
  • Sponsor research on buckwheat

The process has been facilitated by Lee Johnson of the Yates Association of Cornell Cooperative Extension. If you would like to be part of the steering committee, please give her a call at (315) 536-5123.

Field Day
A field day for buckwheat growers was held at the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva on August 27. About 40 growers attended and participated in discussions about the challenges of successfully raising buckwheat. Some of the comments are included in this newsletter. Also on display were the breeding lines being evaluated for the Northeast. The attendees came from as far as central Pennsylvania, the Lake Erie region, and northern New York. The meeting made the front page of the Finger Lakes Times the next day! With the success of this field day, another one is tentatively scheduled for August 26, 1997. More will be in the spring newsletter.

There was considerable discussion at the buckwheat field day regarding harvest techniques. Here are some of the points that were brought up:

  • A rotary combine will grind the stems, so these are not appropriate for harvesting buckwheat.
  • When direct cutting, the maturity of the stems is also important. The stems become stiffer and less brittle with time. This makes them pass through the machine much more easily and reduces problems with wrapping. Don't let it go too far, because shattering becomes a risk soon after the stems are ready.
  • To avoid shattering seed and grinding the stems, the cylinder needs to run slowly: 475 rpm is in the ballpark, but the condition of the stems will determine the right speed.
  • Most growers thought it was best to run a lot of air through the combine. One grower didn't think it was possible to overdo it, that anything going out the back was not a good seed.
  • The adjustment of the concaves was controversial. The recommendation from Cornell is to open them 3/8 inch in front and 3/4 inch in the rear. That could cause a lot of trouble with wrapping stems. Adjusting them to 3/4 inch in the front and 3/8 inch in the rear may let some seeds through, but it keeps the combine running smoothly.

Preventing shattering when you are direct cutting
On the questionnaire in the last newsletter, there were some suggestions on preventing shattering when direct cutting. Vincent Barron of Dansville, Livingston, Co., combines when the crop is still green, before shattering becomes a problem. George De Glopper of Grand Island, Erie Co., removes half the wires from the concaves. Calvin Rothermich of Enfield, Tompkins Co., also removes teeth from the concaves, and has no trouble with shattering, even in late harvests. Hoss Lang of Butler Co. PA, keeps shattering down by using his old AC All Crop combine.

From looking at buckwheat in various locations, I have the impression that the leaves stay on until frost at some lower elevations, making harvest timing more difficult for direct cutting. At high elevations, the leaves begin to drop and the stems harden before frost. This makes it easier to harvest before the sees begin to drop off.

Know your costs
Roy Ike of Interlaken, Seneca Co., was happy with his buckwheat yields, but found that his production costs made the crop uneconomical. He encourages other growers to know their production costs for each crop.

Taking advantage of the soil tilth after buckwheat
Calvin Rothermich puts in no-till corn after buckwheat. On his southern-tier soils, he finds that continuous no-till corn does not work, but a buckwheat-no-till corn rotation is excellent. Dale Morse of Jefferson Co. Cooperative Extension also sees buckwheat as an important soil-conditioning break in the dairy farmers' corn planting.

Jim Sheeder of Somerset Co., PA direct seeds hay and pasture after buckwheat. The weed control is helpful when establishing a perennial crop. Both Hoss Lang and Vincent Barron have success with spring oats after buckwheat.

Breeding update
Developing a Northeastern buckwheat variety: the 25 breeding lines tested in the Cornell program this summer include some very promising material. There are many lines that performed better than Manor. One better performer is the new variety Manisoba, which may be available next season. While yield data are not available yet, the measurements of plant growth and of initial seed set brought out marked differences.

The trials were done at three locations to identify consistent performers. In addition to the experiment station site, they were also planted on a hilltop site in Yates Co. and in a river bottom soil in Allegheny Co.

The best lines had a heavy and uniform crop of large seeds. A few were among the best performers at all three locations.

Several of the high-performing lines will be tested for milling quality by Birkett Mills. Since all of them were originally selected for having good milling properties, we are optimistic about finding a breeding line to develop into a variety over the next several years. Birkett Mills is sponsoring this breeding project and is hoping to make better buckwheat varieties available to growers.

Several growers have reported that a limitation to growing the crop is long-distance trucking. Partial loads are especially uneconomical. Using the growers association is one way to work with neighboring growers to make the shipping easier and cheaper. There are several different ways to solve the problem, and the right solution will depend on the particular situation.

Crop insurance
The USDA is considering providing crop insurance for buckwheat. It would be useful to let them know which hazards you would want insurance for. Send you comments to the editor and they will get forwarded to the people at the Economic Research Service.

For next time
Many growers are interested in alternative marketing avenues. Of particular interest are markets for small-seeded buckwheat and markets for growers far from the buyers in the Finger Lakes area. Please send your ideas to the editor to go in the spring issue.
Thomas Björkman
Dept. of Horticultural Sciences
Cornell Univ. NYSAES
Geneva, NY 14456

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