A Manitoba government website claims that the province “is the buckwheat capital of Canada.”
Ten or 20 years ago Manitoba grew the majority of buckwheat in Canada.
Nowadays, Ontario wears the buckwheat crown.
Data from Agricorp, the provincial crop insurer, shows that Ontario had 10,622 insured acres of buckwheat in 2016.
In comparison, Manitoba had 5,645 acres in 2017 and acreage has been stuck in the 4,000 to 7,000 range for about a decade,
The actual acreage figures for both provinces are likely higher because a number of producers grow buckwheat without crop insurance.
Buckwheat production has shifted to Ontario and Quebec because demand is strong in eastern North America.
Birkett Mills, a company in New York state that produces buckwheat flour, groats and other products, buys a large percentage of the buckwheat grown in Ontario.
“We typically contract around 8,000 to 10,000 acres up there (in Ontario),” said Cliff Orr, a vice-president with Birkett Mills.
The company also contracts buckwheat production in Quebec, New York state, North Dakota and Manitoba.
Acres under contract are down slightly this year because production was higher than expected in 2017. However, acreage has been climbing over the last five years, thanks to strong demand for buckwheat.
“More and more people are looking for the ancient grains, gluten-free and nutrition — all the things that come with buckwheat,” Orr said from his office in Penn Yan in western New York.
“It’s far more nutritious than some of the empty starch … like rice flour.”
Many consumers want healthier bread, multi-grain crackers and breakfast cereals that are free of something they don’t want, such as gluten.
Consequently, food manufacturers are turning to buckwheat.
“If you look on the label, one of (the) ingredients quite often is buckwheat,” said Orr, who added that Birkett Mills is likely the largest buyer of buckwheat in North America.
Buckwheat consumption may be on the rise in North America, but that’s not evident in southern Manitoba.
Marc Durand, who runs Durand Seeds in Notre Dame de Lourdes, Man., said buckwheat seed sales were soft this spring. Manitoba growers will often plant buckwheat in June because a field was too wet for a different crop in May.
That didn’t happen in 2018.
“Seeding went so well (this spring) that guys did not grow buckwheat,” he said.
“From what (seed) I’ve sold and what I’ve contracted, it (acreage) is way less than usual.”
The lack of interest is surprising because buckwheat prices in Manitoba are $13 to $14 per bushel. Input costs for buckwheat are minimal, so even a poor yielding crop can be profitable.
“If a guy gets 10 bu. per acre, he’s already covered his costs and making a little bit of profit,” Durand said.
Producers remain wary of buckwheat because it’s hard to control weeds in the crop, and a field can quickly turn into a weedy mess.
“The lack of herbicides (for buckwheat) is another thing that scares guys away,” Durand said.
Southern Manitoba acres are down, but it’s possible that growers north of Dauphin did seed buckwheat in 2018. Most of the buckwheat in Manitoba is now grown around Ethelbert, but Durand wasn’t sure if acreage is up or down in that region.
However, it’s become evident that the buckwheat industry has shifted to Central Canada.
“A lot of my buckwheat goes out east — to Ontario and Quebec. The demand is always there from those two provinces,” Durand said. “I sell a lot of seed over there (Ontario and Quebec).”
- The price for conventional buckwheat was $US0.235 per lb. In Canadian dollars, that works out to $15.27 per bu.
- For organic buckwheat, the contracted price was $0.2975 per lb. In Canadian currency, that’s $19.33 per bu.