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Information for Buckwheat Growers

Northeast Buckwheat Growers Newsletter

No. 6 September 1998
Edited by Thomas Bjorkman, Cornell NYSAES, Geneva NY

Season overview
The 1998 buckwheat season began with widespread thunder showers in early July. The heavy rains packed newly-planted seeds in mud. Many fields that went in just before storms have very poor stands, and plant growth never took off. Later sowings grew nicely. There was period of particularly warm weather August 5 to 11, when the nights stayed very warm. Hot nights during the peak bloom will cut seed set, and fields sown in early July were in prime bloom.

Moisture during the growing season was unevenly distributed, as it is every year. Afternoon wilting was common during August, but there was not a widespread drought. September has generally been dry, but excellent for maturing the crop.

Field Day
The 1998 Buckwheat Field Day was held on Tuesday, August 25, 1998 at the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY. There were about 40 growers, most of whom had considerable experience growing buckwheat. Some dedicated NBGA members travel far to take part and to provide a broad regional view. Especially notable were Ron Hudec, from Johnstown, PA and Victor Veri from near Hamilton, Ont. If you live closer, we'll be expecting you next year!

Another new variety: Keukett. Kade Research has released a new variety for the Northeast based on the breeding trials conducted at Cornell. The new variety is the first release specifically for the Northeast in a long time. Keukett had yielded well in plot trials at several locations in New York. Commercial-scale trials will be conducted in the coming seasons to demonstrate its performance relative to the current variety, Manor. It is not yet available to growers.

Keukett shows vigorous early growth, which should overcome some of the sensitivity to compacted soil that presently hurts stands. It also shows lodging resistance, which should be of considerable value in increasing the harvested yield.

The seeds of Keukett are shorter and rounder than those of Manor. The groat inside is the same size or a little larger. The hull is nearly black. This shape provides high test weight, easier cleaning, easy dehulling, and good recovery.

Keukett was developed with the financial backing of the Birkett Mills, which provided support to both Kade Research and Cornell. The name is a combination of "Keuka Lake", where the mill is located and "Birkett."  This variety, which is owned by Kade Research, had been licensed to Birkett Mills.

Swath or not swath. Discussions of the value of swathing continued at the field day. Swathing is useful if there won't be a frost by harvest, such as near lakes or at low elevations. At such sites, the crop does not mature as uniformly. Also, further north, where longer daylengths make the plants less determinate, swathing may be helpful to get the crop to mature by frost.

On the other hand, at high elevations in New York's southern tier, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, cold nights and short days help mature the crop uniformly, and the first frost is often well timed for harvest. Growers in these locations combine directly with great success.

Where swathing is useful, it also helps protect the crop from storms. When the crop is in a windrow, it will not shatter onto the ground. Wind and wind-driven rain are the main cause of shattering. It is essential to cut the crop high so that the swath is up off the ground. Windrows on the ground will sprout and mold. Late plantings and thin stands may be too short to swath effectively. Swathing is usually much faster than straight combining, which can be valuable if time is short.

One grower improvised a swather by blocking the rollers open on his haybine. By cutting high and laying two swaths next to each other, he can pick up the equivalent of a 25 foot width with his combine. While he'd prefer a pick-up head, he's found a way to adjust the reel on his grain head to pick up the swaths. These modifications of existing equipment are a clever way to try swathing without investing new money.

International Symposium on Buckwheat
The International Buckwheat Research Association sponsors an international symposium every three years. The 7th Symposium brought this meeting to North America for the first time. It was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Aug. 12-14, 1998. Hundreds of buckwheat researchers from around the word gathered to learn of new advances on this crop. Below are some of the topics that were discussed.

Weed suppression. The ability of buckwheat to suppress weeds was actively discussed at the buckwheat symposium. Buckwheat is allelopathic against some weeds. It inhibits root growth of lambsquarters and large crabgrass. Top growth is not directly affected, but allelopathy provides more opportunity for buckwheat to overtop these weeds. This effect can continue to suppress weeds in the following crop.

Participants from the world over agreed that early establishment is the key to suppressing weeds. Buckwheat must overtop the weeds to suppress them. Dry soil at planting slows buckwheat growth and can give weeds a head start. On the other hand, cold, wet conditions after planting favor the cool-season weeds and inhibit buckwheat. If the buckwheat stops growing, and the weeds get ahead, buckwheat will never catch up again. In countries where buckwheat is sown in the spring, weed control is a major concern.

Daylength effects. Buckwheat varieties tend to become indeterminate if days are longer. Growers here who vary their planting date notice that plants are larger if sown in June than in July (though yields are not higher). The latitude also affects the summer daylength. Varieties that do well in one location tend to be short and highly determinate when planted further south. They tend to be more indeterminate in the long days further north. That is why buckwheat ripens so differently in Canada than it does in Pennsylvania.

The determinate character here is an advantage. Although it limits the maximum yield to 30-40 bu/ac, the advantages are greater than the disadvantages. Determinate buckwheat forms have been developed for Russia, where buckwheat is grown farther north. These varieties grow more uniformly and have dramatically higher yield. Growers in Tasmania, Australia originally tried to grow central-Japanese varieties but they were too big and viny. When they used varieties from farther north, the growth was determinate and the yields higher.
The Northeast will benefit from varieties selected for yielding well as determinate plants.

The origin of cultivated buckwheat. The original buckwheat to be domesticated has been discovered through rugged exploration and extensive genetic analysis by Professor Ohnishi of Kyoto. Buckwheat was domesticated in the upper Yangtse River valley in China. There, it grows in shallow mountain soils on steep slopes above the river. On these barren hillsides, individual wild buckwheat plants hang on in the shelter of boulders. Given their origin, perhaps it is not surprising that they don't know what to do when confronted with plenty of moisture and fertilizer!

The Yi tribe domesticated buckwheat, probably about 5000 years ago. They grind the whole grain for flour to make loaves of heavy bread that are baked in the coals of the fire.

Drying buckwheat
Bill Wilcke at the University of Minnesota is an expert of grain drying. He gathered this information about drying buckwheat.

Bin dryers designed for natural-air drying (no heat added) of wheat can be used for buckwheat. Damp buckwheat is placed in a bin that has a full perforated drying floor and the drying fan is operated continuously until the drying zone has moved completely through the bin and all buckwheat in the bin has dried to 13-16% moisture. Drying time depends on airflow, initial crop moisture, and weather. It usually takes several weeks.

Heated-air dryers can also be used to dry buckwheat. Keep the drying air temperature below about 110° F to avoid killing the germ, darkening the groat, or causing other seed damage. As soon as the buckwheat has dried to 16%, use unheated air either in the dryer or in storage to cool the grain to within 10° F of the outdoor temperature.

Another note on the drying temperature comes from Dr. Morita at Kagoshima University. His group tested the aroma of buckwheat after drying at various temperatures. Drying up to 95° preserved the aroma well, but at 105°, the aroma was cut by half. Although aroma is not a major criterion in the Northeast, this result does give an indication of what temperatures begin to harm buckwheat.

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