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Information for Buckwheat Growers

Northeast Buckwheat Growers Newsletter

No. 8 September 1999
Edited by Thomas Bjorkman, Cornell NYSAES, Geneva NY

Essentials of raising buckwheat: cutting high
There have been reports this season of sprouted grain being delivered. It has been caused by windrows being on the ground in warm weather. Air circulation is very important in windrows. Get them up off the ground!
One of the advantages we have in the Northeast is that the seed zone on the plant is fairly compact. You can cut relatively high on the stem and still get all the seeds. Inspect some plants before beginning the harvest to see how high you can go. The lowest kernels are often empty; trying to save them may cost you many more through sprouting or inefficient threshing.
Ripe buckwheat plant
Buckwheat also loses its leaves from the bottom of the plant. As the stems become bare, they are easier to combine, but also more susceptible to lodging. Because the top leaves stay on, it is hard to see how far the defoliation has come unless you walk into the field.

If you are direct cutting before a frost, it is useful to have less material going through the combine. You have to drive pretty slowly to keep it from clogging and wrapping as it is.

If you are windrowing, the extra height lets the wind get under the windrow. If the windrow ends up on the ground, it stays wet and the seeds often sprout. It is essential to get air circulation under the windrow!

How high? Here are some ideas from several growers. If the buckwheat is short (2 - 2 1/2 feet) cut about a foot above the ground. If the plants are ideal height (2 1/2 - 3 1/2 feet) you can cut at about 18 inches. If the plants are tall, it depends a lot on how stiff the straw is. Very tall straw is sometimes too soft to carry a windrow. Still, the higher you cut, the lighter the windrow.

And as always:

  • Drive slowly to prevent overloading
  • Open the concaves and chaffer to let the straw pass through easily
  • Run the cylinder about 1/3 the speed used for small grains.
  • Turn the air up high to remove all the chaff and false kernels

When to harvest: the case for early
The general recommendation for harvesting buckwheat is when 70% of the grains are black. The best time will vary with other conditions on your farm. Many growers successfully wait until frost to make combining easier. In other places, there would be little left to harvest if you waited that long.

NBGA member Charles Cherwak has had good luck harvesting early. Early in two senses: early in the season, as soon as the grain ripens enough; and early in the day, before the dew is off the plants.

"Waiting until the combining is easy is the biggest mistake you can make," he says. The shattering costs enormously in yield. Harvesting in the evening after dew sets in or in the early morning results in much higher yields. He's noticed differences of 5 bu/ac. With drying facilities available, he harvests even when seed moisture is 25 or 30%, then dries immediately at 20° above ambient, to bring the moisture down to 16%.

He has grown over 100 acres of buckwheat in southern Seneca County for about 40 years. His farm is at about 1400 ft. elevation overlooking Seneca Lake.

1999 field day in Geneva
The 1999 Buckwheat Field Day was held on Tuesday, August 24, 1999, at the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY. More than 30 growers from western New York and Pennsylvania attended the event. Two major buckwheat processors, Birkett Mills and AgriCulver, also sent representatives. Almost all the growers had been to previous field days and all had considerable experience with the crop.

The event also featured production topics presented by Thomas Bjorkman and several growers, along with field demonstrations. A major topic of concern was the effect of the drought on crop establishment and harvest. Bjorkman presented new research on seed rot and the potential use of Apron fungicide. Growers were also alerted to Sclerotinia stem rot, which can take out much of the crop just before harvest. This disease was (re)discovered last year in collaboration with plant pathologist Helene Dillard.

"In the field, there was particular interest in new genotypes being developed as future varieties," Bjorkman noted. "The growers saw and appreciated the characteristics of a solid canopy, uniform seed set, and lodging resistance that result in better crops than their current variety, Manor."

Cliff Orr, of Birkett Mills, described the company's commitment to using new varieties and the milling and cooking tests that they need to perform so that they are ready to process the new, larger-seeded types. He said that if the new varieties can be processed with only minor modifications to current manufacturing techniques, they could be contracted as early as next season. If major modifications are necessary, however, then further variety and product development will be required.

Birkett Mills also introduced a new product, "Kasha Classics." According to Bjorkman, the pilaf-like, quick-cooking dish represents an effort to expand the market for buckwheat products and was well-received by the growers.

As an added treat, NBGA member Dr. Hiroshi Fuji of Roswell Park Cancer Center in Buffalo, served teuchi soba noodles made traditionally with flour ground by hand using a stone wheel just prior to preparation. Participants enjoyed the chance to sample an international specialty made with their favorite product.

Bjorkman considers this year's buckwheat field day a success and is gratified to see the community of buckwheat growers expanding and becoming more sophisticated about the crop's potential.

Salt injury?
At the field day, George Bancroft of Dansville brought in buckwheat with burned leaf margins. He suspected that it was salt injury because it occurred in a part of the field where road salt can run off.
Since then, this same symptom has been identified as severe potassium deficiency. Since sodium in road salt will effectively compete with potassium for uptake, Mr. Bancroft's diagnosis is likely to be accurate. Potassium deficiency is rarely seen in field-grown buckwheat, but an excess of salt can make the symptoms appear.

Allelopathy helps buckwheat suppress weeds
Growers and extension staff often ask whether buckwheat has been shown to be allelopathic. We know that it shades out weeds well, and that summer tillage for buckwheat planting disrupts perennial weeds. The first report of actual allelopathy has finally come out. S.H. Eom at Kangwon University (in the buckwheat-growing region of Korea) has demonstrated that a compound called diethyl phthalate is produced by buckwheat and is responsible for weed suppression. This weed-suppressing compound is mainly in the stem rather than the shoots, so it likely to be most active by suppressing weeds after the buckwheat is harvested. It was especially active on pigweed, and not particularly effective on plants in the mustard family.

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