This year, low commodity prices have some corn growers looking for alternative crops. Buckwheat will be attractive to a few because there are scenarios where buckwheat makes money and corn loses money. This note will help identify those scenarios.
It will only take a small proportion of corn growers to meet the need for buckwheat. There are usually over a million acres of corn in New York, buy only a few thousand acres of buckwheat contracts available. Nevertheless, filling those contracts in New York would move a lot of buckwheat production closer to the customer.
The question is which corn growers might find the buckwheat option attractive. I have made a list of situations for which buckwheat could be worth looking into.
There is a lot of land with an expected corn yield of 100-120 bushels per acre. That is about the right productivity level for raising excellent buckwheat.
Fields with a 120-bushel production potential are likely to make money with buckwheat. Using the Ohio State crop production budget calculator, the budget shows a loss of about $100 per acre for 120-bushel corn, and a profit of about $100 per acre for 20-bushel buckwheat. That is the return above total costs. A short version of the budget is below, and the full spreadsheet is available for download for those who want to plug in their own numbers. (Thanks to Robert Moore and Barry Ward, OSU Ag Econ for the spreadsheet.)
The price of $14.25 per 50-lb bushel is firm for 2016 because new contracts offered only by The Birkett Mills of Penn Yan, and all US buckwheat is raised on contract. The estimate of 20 bu per acre assumes an attentive farmer who harvests on time. While zero yields can happen, top yields are 30-40 bu/ac.
The prospective grower should already own the necessary equipment: a drill for planting, and a combine with a small-grain head for harvest, and a truck for delivering immediately after harvest. Mainstream buckwheat growers often have swathing equipment, but that is not worth considering by the occasional grower.
The candidate fields can be more acid than corn prefers. However, they should not be so wet or slow-percolating that rain causes puddling. (The picture on the cover of the 2016 Cornell Field Crops guide shows field that is a poor candidate for buckwheat.)
Fields that were not ready to plant in time for other crops are candidates. Since buckwheat is sown at the beginning of July, field preparation can happen in early June when the planting rush is over and the ground can be prepared more gently.
A sense of humor when getting ribbed at the diner helps.
Beekeepers, or friends of beekeepers, can benefit because buckwheat provides valuable bee forage in August. The crop will support about one hive per acre.
Glyphosate-resistant pigweed, and some others weeds, will be suppressed by a buckwheat rotation. That suppression offers a valuable alternative mode of action for herbicide-resistance management..