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Information for Buckwheat Growers

Northeast Buckwheat Growers Newsletter

No. 4 September 1997
Edited by Thomas Bjorkman, Cornell NYSAES, Geneva NY

Field Day
The 1997 Buckwheat Field Day was held on Tuesday, August 26, 1997 at the NYS Experiment Station in Geneva, NY.

About 40 growers or prospective growers attended. Growers came from as far away as Johnstown, PA, Stoney Creek, Ontario, and Schenectady, NY. For the first time, we also had representatives from several buckwheat buyers (Cliff Orr from Birkett Mills, Dale Weed from New Hope, and Jack Kenney from AgriCulver), Extension field staff (Jim Capron and Nate Herendeen), and Experiment Station administration (Dr. Hugh Price, Horticulture Chair, and Dr. James Hunter, Station Director). It is clear that the growers association is starting to draw more attention to the concerns of growers and to the crop in general.

More seeds, not more straw. Those who attended discussed ways to get buckwheat off to a good start, but not have it become overly viny.
For most crops, bigger plants make more seeds. With buckwheat, this is only true for very small plants. The figure below shows that plants which grow well enough to make just 1.5 tons of dry matter per acre can make as many seeds as larger plants.

As the total growth increases, so should the yield. This is true for up to about a ton and a half of dry matter per acre. With bigger plants, there is no relationship between palnt growth and yield. The vertical axis shows the harvested seed yield in tons per acre (left) or bushels per acre (right). The solid circles are data from central New York, open diamonds are from North Dakota. Each point represents one field. All of the data are for Manor buckwheat.

The problem is that buckwheat in high fertility soil diverts carbohydrate from making seeds to making more leaves and stems. Better varieties for the future should turn off the flow to new growth once the seeds begin to fill and direct it all to seed-making.

Average yield of buckwheat in New York.
The inability of buckwheat to shift growing energy from leaves to seeds during seed fill means that increased fertility does not increase yields. Yields in other crops were increased during this century largely by using more fertilizer. That does not work for buckwheat. This problem with buckwheat is now being addressed in the joint breeding effort of Clayton Campbell of Kade Research in Manitoba and Thomas Björkman of Cornell University.

Cleaning buckwheat.
Larry Strickland, who receives buckwheat for the Birkett Mills, spoke about cleaning buckwheat at the field day. One important point is that empty hulls look similar to filled seeds. Some loads come in that are half empty hulls by volume (much less than that by weight). These loads mean unnecessary trucking for growers. The consensus was that the solution is to turn up the air on the combine and check the kernels in the bin to see that most are filled.

Larry showed samples of screenings that looked like good buckwheat from a distance, but the bags weighed very little. Squeezing the kernels showed that they were empty. The screenings weigh less than 10 lb/bu, whereas clean grain is close to 50 lb. If empty kernels are just 5% of the weight in a load, they will be about a quarter of the load by volume!

If the harvested grain contains a lot of stems or weed seeds, it is important to bring them in quickly. These impurities hold water, and moist plant material heats easily. If a load gets hot, the buckwheat can spoil fast, even overnight.

Overheating can also spoil the grain if it is dried with too much heat. The inner seed coat should still be bright green in properly dried buckwheat. One suggestion was to use lots of air, not lots of heat, and to keep the temperature under 100° F.

New breeding lines were on display. The dry weather in July and early August kept the plants on the small side, but seed fill had just begun. One new line (BM91882.1) appeared heavily loaded with seed. It has the potential to set a big seed crop even if the plant is large. It performed very well last year also, and may be a candidate for release.

Self-compatible buckwheat has recently been developed, and could revolutionize buckwheat breeding by letting breeders use more efficient techniques. However, the drawback to self-compatibility is inbreeding. In the lines on display, inbreeding depression was evident as smaller, later-flowering plants. These lines are a good example of a strategy that will pay off in the long run, even though it does not look promising at first.

As a result of previous years' trials, Manisoba and an advanced breeding line were tested in comparison strips on a commercial scale. The trial was put in by Stanley Van Vleet in Lodi. Seed of Manisoba is being increased locally for the first time under the skeptical eye of Calvin Rothermich.

Buckwheat hull craze
Buckwheat hulls have been used to stuff pillows in Japan for at least a century. Few were sold in the US until this summer, when a company started selling buckwheat-hull pillows by infomercial on television. Now every craft pillow maker wants in on it. The result is that buckwheat hulls are in especially high demand. Mills now have a big backlog of orders. The pillows often cost $20 or $30, so the manufacturers can spend a fair amount on the stuffing.

Every grower gets a lot of hulls in their screenings. How much might they be worth? Unfortunately, not much. The only way to get clean buckwheat hulls is to separate whole kernels, dehull them, then remove the dust from the hulls. Sticks, buckwheat dust, pollen and mold are all too common in the screenings. These impurities would be very difficult to separate and they would ruin the pillows.

Buckwheat Harvest Festival
The 12th annual Buckwheat Harvest Festival in Penn Yan will be September 26th through 28th. There are buckwheat pancakes and various other buckwheat foods available. One-day gate admission is $6. In town, there is a parade at 10:30 on Saturday morning and tours of Birkett Mills Saturday from noon to 3 and Sunday from 11 am to 1 pm.

Research news
Harvest timing. To decide when buckwheat is ready to harvest, we rely on research from Manitoba that shows the best swathing time to be when 2/3 of the filled grains are black. Dr. Anokhina and her colleagues at the Belorussian Academy of Sciences recently measured the optimum time for direct combining in their region and found it to be when the grain was+ a little more mature, when 85-90% were brown. The risk associated with delaying harvest is that shattering increases. There is generally less shattering in the morning than in the afternoon.

Buckwheat and health. Recent work has shown that buckwheat protein as part of the diet lowers blood cholesterol substantially. It is similar to the oat bran that was so popular a few years ago. The newest results indicate that a buckwheat protein soaks up the cholesterol in food, which is otherwise absorbed very quickly in the small intestine. Dr. Kayashita, a nutritionist at Hiroshima University, found that this buckwheat protein is not digested, so it carries the cholesterol out. Remember that when you go by the buckwheat fried dough stand at the Buckwheat Harvest Festival.

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