What's Cropping Up? Blog

Articles from the bi-monthly Cornell Field Crops newsletter

February 7, 2017
by Cornell Field Crops
Comments Off on What’s Cropping Up? Volume 27 Number 1 – January/February 2017

What’s Cropping Up? Volume 27 Number 1 – January/February 2017

The full version of What’s Cropping Up? Volume 27 No. 1 is available as a downloadable PDF and on issuu.  Individual articles are available below:

February 2, 2017
by Cornell Field Crops
Comments Off on Organic Sunflowers for Seed Butter

Organic Sunflowers for Seed Butter

Brian Caldwell, Chris Pelzer, and Matthew Ryan
Soil and Crop Sciences Section, School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University

Early in 2016, the Cornell Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab met with Bob Gelser, CEO of the Once Again Nut Butter Collective, Inc. (OANB) about the feasibility of growing organic confectionary sunflowers in New York State. OANB is an employee-owned business in Nunda, NY that produces several types of nut and seed butters and other products. The company makes organic sunflower butter, but imports organic sunflower seed kernels from Eastern Europe since local, organic supply sources are currently unable to meet OANB demand. Sunflower butter currently is a popular alternative to peanut and tree nut butters that have greater allergenic potential. Mr. Gelser proposed that our lab trial organic sunflowers, to gather experience and data under NYS conditions.

In general, there are two types of sunflower markets: oilseed and confectionary. Oilseed has greater oil content and is used in the production of vegetable oil, biodiesel, birdseed, and livestock feed. Confectionary has larger-sized seeds that are eaten as snacks or dehulled for food-grade kernel markets, including sunflower butter production. Smaller-sized confectionary seeds that do not make food-grade standards are often used for birdseed. Varieties suitable for both the oilseed and confectionary markets are called “conoil”.

While most US sunflower production is in the Western Plains and Northern Great Plains, sunflowers have the potential to broaden and diversify crop rotations in NYS. In the most recent census, USDA-NASS reports that in 2012 NYS produced 640,000 lb of sunflowers and 50,000 lb were confectionary sunflowers. Diversified rotations may help with weed management, break pest cycles, and increase farm viability.

Figure 1. Bob Gelser and Gael Orr of Once Again Nut Butter, and Dr. Matthew Ryan at organic sunflower trial on August 31, 2016.

With shared interests of increasing available crop markets and diversifying crop rotations for NYS organic farmers, we started an OANB-funded research project. Since we had no experience with the crop, we designed a simple experiment (Fig. 1). We acquired two varieties, Badger DMR (downy mildew-resistant) and N5LM307, an advanced new selection, donated by the major sunflower breeder Nuseed. They are both conoil types, suitable for dehulling. The trial was relatively large, about 2 acres, and our goal was to produce at least 700 lb of kernels of each variety. This is the amount OANB needed for roasting to evaluate the quality of the seeds for sunflower butter.

Growing sunflowers is very compatible with equipment that farmers use to grow corn grain. The seedbed was prepared by moldboard plowing and disking. Kreher’s 5-4-3 pelletized composted poultry manure was spread at 2000 lb/A and incorporated with a roller harrow. We used a 4-row JD 7200 MaxEmerge planter with finger pickup corn seed meters with 30 inch row spacing. The Kreher’s product was also applied through the corn planter at a rate of 220 lb/A, to give a total preplant plus starter nitrogen application of 111 lb N/A. We estimate that about half of that was available to the sunflower crop. Seeds of the two varieties were planted on June 10, 2016 at Musgrave Research Farm in Aurora, NY, at two target rates, 25,000 and 35,000/A, in a randomized complete block design.

The planting was done in the midst of a severe dry spell. Only 2.00 inches of rain had fallen in the month of May at Musgrave Farm, and 0.74 inches fell in June. The first significant rainfall after planting was 0.69 inches on July 19. Nonetheless, the sunflowers emerged well, though a bit slowly. By July 1, they were big enough to cultivate, which we did with a 2-row belly-mounted cultivator that we typically use for research plots. Sunflowers are an ideal crop to mechanically cultivate because they quickly reach a height of 4-5 inches. Soil can be lightly hilled around the base of the plants to smother weeds. Because of the dry conditions, weed emergence was also low. The rows were cultivated a second and last time with a JD 4-row row crop cultivator on July 11.

Sunflowers are quite drought-tolerant. They grew well through the drought and started flowering around August 15 at a height of 4-5 feet (Fig. 1).

On October 7, sunflowers were deemed physiologically mature evidenced by the banana-yellow color of the back of the sunflower disc. On this date, we hand-harvested sunflower heads for moisture content and yields. Plant population data and weed biomass samples were also collected. The Badger DMR seeds had a moisture content of 13.4% and the N5LM307, 15.7% at that time. However, the discs of the heads were still quite moist, around 80%. We did the hand harvest to measure the maximum potential yield of the crop. It is likely that a fair amount of moist material would have been mixed with the seed if we harvested with the combine on that day, presenting the danger of molding during storage. Given the high moisture of the disc, we decided to delay machine harvest. We also anticipated significant losses to bird predation over the next few weeks.

Plant stands were different, both by seeding rate and variety. Badger DMR established at significantly higher rates than the N5LM307 (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Average organic sunflower stands in 2016. Bars represent the standard error of the mean.

Weed biomass was relatively low, though there were a few large plants that went to seed. This caused variability in the weed biomass data. Weed biomass was significantly different by variety but not by seeding rate. The Badger DMR variety had 48 lb/A of weed biomass, while N5LM307 had 202 lb/A. These low amounts of weed biomass likely did not significantly reduce yields.

Hand harvest yields were high. The low seeding rate of Badger DMR yielded the most at 4260 lb/A (10% moisture). The high seeding rate of Badger and both rates of N5LM307 yielded the same at 3100-3450 lb/A (Fig. 3). The low rate of Badger DMR may have performed better due to lower within-crop competition during the dry conditions. These yields are considerably higher than the 1000-1400 lb/A reported for dryland production in Texas. However, it should be kept in mind that this was the first year for sunflowers at the Musgrave Research Farm, and thus pest and disease populations have not built up.

Figure 3. Average sunflower hand harvest yields in 2016. Bars represent the standard error of the mean.

When we harvested with the combine on November 1, our bulk measurements showed average yields of 3300 lb/A for Badger DMR and 3600 for N5LM307 (Fig. 4). Evidently, there was not much loss to birds. The combine handled the crop well, leaving little trash in the harvested crop. The only modification we made to the standard corn head was to install Golden Plains sunflower plates, which direct the sunflower heads in and prevent seed loss out the front (Fig. 5). These cost $1142 used or $1693 new for our Case IH 1644 4-row combine and were easily installed. We immediately put the harvested seed into 1-ton bulk tote bags and installed a screw-in aerator in each (Fig. 6). This small-scale approach seemed to do a very good job of removing excess moisture and kept the seeds from heating up. Drying temperatures need to be held below 110 degrees F to maintain quality. After 4 days, they had dried down to the 8-9% range, which is considered ideal for storage, so we turned off the aerators.

Figure 4. Sunflowers at harvest on November 1, 2016.

Figure 5. “Sunflower plates” bolted on to the corn head keep the sunflower heads from bouncing forward and out.

Figure 6. Harvested sunflower seed in tote bags with aerators. These were moved under cover. This accomplished rapid, low-temperature drying after experiment harvest.

Two more steps remain before they can be processed into sunflower butter. First, they will be cleaned of crop residue, and then dehulled. The seeds were delivered to OANB and they will be in charge of these steps, which we will document. Finally, OANB will process them into sunflower butter and evaluate the quality of the product.

Hulled organic sunflower seeds may typically receive a delivered price of $0.90-$1.10/lb. Estimates vary, but the seeds are reported to be about 60-80% kernel. Whole seed yields of 3000 lb/A would produce dehulled yields of about 1800+ lb/A, minus losses during dehulling. The gross returns from such a sunflower crop would be good, but we do not have data on the costs and losses from the dehulling operation. Drying after harvest is critical and may add to costs. Otherwise, growing and harvest costs appear similar to organic corn. More work will be needed in the future to determine yield variability and cost numbers.

The dry season of 2016 was perhaps ideal for sunflowers in some ways. First, they appear to have a good competitive advantage against weeds under dry conditions. Second, dry weather minimizes the occurrence of white mold, Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, which can affect all parts of the plant. It can also infect soybeans and reduce yields and quality of this valuable crop. We did not see white mold in 2016.

Sunflowers can perform well and mature even if planted in early- to mid-June, making them a valuable option when wet soil conditions delay planting outside of the optimum corn and soybean window. They also do not need high fertility levels and provide diversity within the rotation, with the important caveat of being a host for white mold. Our 2016 agronomic results were favorable. Later this winter, we will also find out processing results from OANB for these varieties. We need to determine the performance of sunflowers in wetter growing seasons. Other factors we hope to examine in the future are whether they will tend to increase white mold on soybeans within the rotation, and whether sunflower pests (including birds) and diseases will increase.

This project was undertaken with the generous support of the Once Again Nut Butter Collective, Inc., Nunda, NY. Seed was provided by Nuseed US, Alsip, IL.

December 7, 2016
by Cornell Field Crops
Comments Off on What’s Cropping Up? – Volume 26 No. 6 – November/December Edition

What’s Cropping Up? – Volume 26 No. 6 – November/December Edition

The full version of What’s Cropping Up? Volume 26 No. 6 is available as a downloadable PDF and on issuu.  Individual articles are available below:

September 29, 2016
by Cornell Field Crops
Comments Off on Wheat Does Not Respond to High Inputs at the Aurora Research Farm in the Dry 2016 Growing Season

Wheat Does Not Respond to High Inputs at the Aurora Research Farm in the Dry 2016 Growing Season

By Bill Cox and Eric Sandsted
Soil and Crop Sciences Section – School of Integrated Plant Science, Cornell University

Wheat height was normal but kernel set and/or retention and kernel weight was low in recommended input (left) and high input (right) treatments on a somewhat droughty soil at the Aurora Research Farm in the dry 2016 growing season.

Wheat height was normal but kernel set and/or retention and kernel weight was low in recommended input (left) and high input (right) treatments on a somewhat droughty soil at the Aurora Research Farm in the dry 2016 growing season.

High input wheat, which is characterized by high seeding rates, herbicide application in the fall, split-application of N in the spring resulting in higher total N rates, and a timely spring fungicide application(s) was introduced to New York in the 1980s. Known as intensive management of wheat in the 1980s, it was modeled after European wheat management systems, where yields were often twice that of NY wheat yields. As in the 2000s, consultants or farmers from other countries or regions came to NY to share with NY farmers and industry how they grew wheat. We conducted in-depth studies at the Aurora Farm in the 1980s and reported that yields were increased (10-15%) in 3 years but limited in response (2-5%) in 2 other years. More importantly, we found that intensive management of wheat did not pencil out unless prices exceeded ~$3.75/bushel, relatively high prices back in the 1980s. Wheat prices in NY plummeted to $2.80/bushel in 1985 and $2.25/bushel in 1986, which abruptly ended the push to adopt intensive management of wheat in NY until the 2000s.

Wheat prices in NY averaged ~$2.80/bushel in 2003 and 2004 and increased to $3.35 in 2005 and $4.00/bushel in 2006 so high input wheat management was hardly mentioned in NY. Once prices skyrocketed to $6.95/bushel in NY in 2007 and averaged $6.50/bushel from 2008-2013, high input wheat management became the mantra for wheat production in NY. In addition, wheat yields in NY also increased significantly averaging 64 bushels/acre from 2008-2013 compared with 55 bushels/acre from 2002-2007. Consequently, some growers believed that high input management was solely responsible for the high wheat yields, despite the introduction of newer high-yielding varieties and favorable weather conditions for high wheat yields. Wheat prices have plummeted over the last year with NY growers now receiving less than $4.00/bushel for their wheat. The question that once again arises, as it did in the mid-1980s, “does high input wheat pencil out, if wheat prices remain at $4.00/bushel or lower”?

We compared high input and recommended input management in conventional (and organic) wheat at the Aurora Research Farm in 2016, a year characterized by very dry conditions from March through June (6.52 inches total). This article will focus exclusively on comparing high and recommended input wheat in conventional management. Management inputs were detailed in another article in this issue (http://blogs.cornell.edu/whatscroppingup/2016/09/26/organic-wheat-looked-great-but-yielded-7-5-less-than-conventional-wheat-in-20152016/). Briefly, high input wheat was seeded at 1.6M seeds/acre, received an herbicide application (Harmony extra) in the fall, a split-application of N in the spring (~45 lbs. /acre of actual N at green-up and another ~45 lbs. /acre of actual N at the end of the tillering period in late April) and a timely fungicide application (Prosaro) at the end of May, just before anthesis. In contrast, recommended input wheat was seeded at 1.2M seeds/acre and received a single 60 lb. /acre application of actual N at green-up in late March.

We sub-sampled 1.52 m2 areas (8 rows by 1 meter) in two locations of all wheat plots to determine yield components of all treatments on July 5, the day before harvest. The sub-samples were first weighed, and then the spikes were counted. The spikes were then threshed so all the kernels (~20,000 kernels/sample) could be counted with a seed counter before being weighed. From the sub-sample data, we determined spikes/m2, kernels/spike, kernel weight, and harvest index (grain yield/total dry matter yield) of all the treatments.

Surprisingly, there was no response at all to high input wheat on the doughtiest soil at the Aurora Research Farm in the dry 2016 growing season (Table 1). Although we planted on September 24 and the warm fall and winter allowed the wheat to break dormancy in mid-March in excellent condition, yields were lower than expected. Apparently, the dry conditions from March through June and relatively droughty soils contributed to the somewhat disappointing yield.


Spike number at harvest, the typical ~500 spikes/m2 in NY wheat, did not differ between high and recommended input treatments (Table 1), despite the higher seeding rate and resultant higher plant density of the high input treatment (http://blogs.cornell.edu/whatscroppingup/2016/09/26/organic-wheat-looked-great-but-yielded-7-5-less-than-conventional-wheat-in-20152016/). Evidently, the 60 lb. /acre N rate at green-up stimulated tillering of the recommended input treatment, negating the potential lower spike density associated with the lower plant density. Likewise, kernel number/spike (~25/spike) and kernel weight (~320 mg) did not differ between the high and recommended input treatments (Tables 1 and 2). Kernels/spike and kernel weight were exceedingly low in this study compared with the typical 35-40 kernels/spike and 350-400 mg kernel weight for wheat produced in NY. Apparently, the lack of rainfall, especially in June (0.74 inches), coupled with the somewhat droughty soil, resulted in limited kernel set and/or retention as well as low kernel weight. The dry conditions also contributed to the low but similar harvest index values of ~0.40 for both treatments (Table 2).


In conclusion, wheat did not respond to high inputs on this somewhat droughty soil in Cayuga Co. If growers practiced high input instead of recommended input management with similar yield results, net returns would have much, much lower (higher seeding rate, three additional trips through the field for herbicide, a split-N, and fungicide applications, and the added cost of herbicide, additional N, and fungicide). Again, the dry conditions undoubtedly minimized leaching or denitrification of the single N application in late March and disease pressure throughout the spring cancelling out a response to those additional inputs. Also, yield responses to high input wheat seem to be more prevalent in western NY where growing conditions are more similar to SW Ontario and Michigan where growers have had excellent results with this management system. In central NY, I have found the responses to be more variable.

So, if you are a grower who is averse to having yields lowered because of potential stand loss due to harsh winter conditions, potential weed problems, potential loss of N from a single application at green-up, or potential yield losses from spring diseases, I would suggest using high input management at all times. On the other hand, if you are a grower who is risk averse to spending $ on inputs where there is not a guarantee of an economical return, I would recommend managing the crop according to the growing season and field conditions. If winter annuals or perennial weeds are present in the fall, herbicide application is warranted. But if weed pressure is low in November, the competitive nature of the wheat crop will probably keep weed densities relatively low in the spring. Likewise, if April conditions are wet, it would be prudent to apply additional N in late April, even with a single 60 lb. /acre application in March. But certainly in years with dry March and April conditions, such as in 2016, additional N would not be needed, especially on soils that are not excessively or somewhat poorly drained. Finally, if wet conditions persist before anthesis and are predicted to remain wet during and shortly after anthesis, a timely fungicide application is certainly the best management practice. But if dry conditions have prevailed and are forecasted to remain dry, a fungicide application may not be warranted. Wheat is currently selling for less than $4.00/bushel in NY so wheat growers should factor that into their management inputs.





June 7, 2016
by Cornell Field Crops
Comments Off on What’s Cropping Up? Volume 26 Issue No. 3 – May/June 2016

What’s Cropping Up? Volume 26 Issue No. 3 – May/June 2016

The full version of What’s Cropping Up? Volume 26 No. 3 is available as a downloadable PDF and on issuu.  Individual articles are available below:


May 26, 2016
by Cornell Field Crops
Comments Off on Buckwheat, a historic crop with modern opportunities

Buckwheat, a historic crop with modern opportunities

Thomas Björkman, Section of Horticulture, Cornell University

Buckwheat with flowers isolated.

Buckwheat with flowers isolated.

Buckwheat is a historic crop in New York and Pennsylvania that is seen higher demand as a gluten-free food, and is financially attractive when commodity-crop prices are at today’s low. This article provides an update on the organization of the American buckwheat industry and some thoughts on how the crop fits in New York agriculture.

Recent interest in gluten-free foods has driven an increase in demand for buckwheat. The largest supplier of buckwheat to US food markets is The Birkett Mills right here in Penn Yan, NY. Birkett Mills has needed to contract supplies further from their mill in order to meet that demand. This year they have significant contracts as far away as Minnesota and Prince Edward Island. Their demand could be met much closer to home if more New York farmers raised it.

The Birkett Mills has a long history in this area. It was founded in 1797 as a water driven mill at the outlet to Keuka Lake. At that time, many mills were established in central New York as the region was settled by Europeans. Birkett Mills has the distinction of being one of the few mills that remains, and is still in the original location.

Some of the buckwheat flour is used to make the iconic buckwheat pancakes, but that is far from the only use. A substantial amount becomes roasted groats, called kasha, a staple of Eastern European cuisine. The company’s kasha is available in grocery stores nationally. Buckwheat meal, similar to cornmeal or cream of wheat, is used as an ingredient by food manufacturers. It is sold as “Cream of Buckwheat” breakfast cereal, but this versatile product is also used to make polenta. Polenta is well known in northern Italian cuisine is a corn dish. But before North American corn came to Italy, it was made with buckwheat.

There is one other mill of significance producing food ingredients from buckwheat, Minn-Dak in North Dakota. Much of their production is shipped to Asia. Two large growers in eastern Washington State export all of their production to Asia as whole grain. There are also a handful of small mills in the East that mill a few acres of buckwheat. Overall, the buckwheat marketing is highly concentrated.

There is also a thriving buckwheat seed industry to provide seed for cover crops and wildlife food plots. One of the major producers in this arena is seed way. They processed buckwheat at the historic AgriCulver mill south of Mecklenburg in Schuyler County. That mill served many growers in the Southern Tier when buckwheat was one of the primary crops in the region in the late 19th century.

Buckwheat breeding was privatized in the 1990s, so the premium varieties that are used for food have all been under total production contracts. Many find it surprising that this seemingly neglected crop one of the pioneers in adopting this model of funding breeding and seed production.

Buckwheat for food is largely the proprietary variety, Koto, released by breeder Clayton Campbell in the late 1990s. Other users largely produce Mancan, Dr. Campbell’s first release, in 1972. Some growers, based on old production guides, go looking for ‘Japanese’ or ‘Silverhull’ varieties. These have not been in commerce for five decades or more.

A contemporary role for buckwheat in field-crop production is to manage glyphosate-resistant weeds. The essential principle for herbicide-resistance management is the weeds die from many different causes. When a buckwheat crop is in the rotation, it effectively smothers a portion of the weeds. It is effective against most of weeds that have developed glyphosate resistance in New York. For these annuals, the trick is to have the weed seed germinate just a few days after the buckwheat so that they are smothered. A good buckwheat planting should show greenline by the morning of the fourth day, and outcompete the many weed seeds that germinate then. Buckwheat is also used in organic production to suppress quack grass, and prevent it from becoming a big problem.

Experienced farmers who have not raised buckwheat generally show an interest either when corn prices are low or planting season has been wet. When corn appears to be breakeven or a money loser because prices are too low, buckwheat can be profitable because the input costs are so much less. For 2016, a 120-bushel corn crop would give a ne loss of $100 per acre by my calculation, whereas the same ground planted to buckwheat would net a profit of $100. In a wet spring, buckwheat can be a catch crop on unplanted ground. The time to sow buckwheat at the beginning of July, after the opportunity to plant corn and soybeans has already passed.

Buckwheat’s low input requirements made it the mainstay on hill farms with low soil fertility and weak finances. Much of that ground is now appropriately in either forest or pasture. The farming community began to associate buckwheat with farms having the toughest time. Particularly during the Depression when buckwheat acreage was dropping elsewhere in favor of corn. In New York, that stigma persisted for decades and was still noticeable in the 1980s and 90s. The social factor likely prevented many people from trying buckwheat when it would have been a wise and profitable addition to their rotation. Some of the bigger buckwheat growers even put the crop in fields that were not visible from main roads. The stigma seems to be wearing off. Activities such as the Northeast Buckwheat Growers Association has helped bring buckwheat growers out of the shadows and bring them respect for their professionalism.

Today there is no “typical” buckwheat grower, but a few common themes emerge. A few are specialized, where buckwheat is a big part of their regular rotation and they have invested in equipment to make harvest as efficient and effective as possible. Many farmers raise a few acres of buckwheat from time to time as a catch crop on fields that could not be planted to their intended crop. Weekend farmers can start with buckwheat because it does not require day-to-day attention, the cost of basic equipment is low, and it grows satisfyingly fast even on the lower fertility fields that these farmers often own. A surprisingly large proportion of these weekend farmers are engineers who have worked at one of the Central New York’s big technology firms. Organic field crops growers use buckwheat to diversify their rotation and reduce weed pressure.

Farmers today can take pride, and profit, in raising some buckwheat as part of their rotation. Production information is available at www.hort.cornell.edu/bjorkman/lab/buck/


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