Gluten-free demand spurs premium for buckwheat

A Manitoba seed dealer is offering $16.50 a bushel for new crop buckwheat because eastern Canadian demand is surpassing supply.

Buckwheat flour is a hot item in parts of Quebec and Ontario, thanks in part to the gluten-free consumer trend.

“Before it was in the bin (last year), I had a waiting list (of buyers),” said Marc Durand, who operates Durand Seeds and farms near Notre Dame des Lourdes, Man.

“That’s why I’m offering a little more (for new crop). I know the demand is there…. I’m contracting at $16.50 per bu. That’s for certified No. 1. That’s about two bucks higher than last year.”

Most of Manitoba’s buckwheat crop has historically been exported to Japan to produce soba noodles, but the market has shifted in recent years. More of it now stays in North America and is milled into buckwheat flour.

Eastern Canadian millers will essentially buy everything they can get from Manitoba, Durand said. The millers can afford to pay because buckwheat flour is a premium product in Quebec.

Au Moulin Bleu, a small miller in Quebec, is selling a two kilogram bag of buckwheat flour on its website for $8. In comparison, it sells kamut flour for $4 and whole wheat flour for $3.

Manitoba farmers are responding to the strong prices.

Buckwheat plantings increased to an estimated 10,000 acres in 2015 from 4,000 to 5,000 in recent years. Production was also up. Last fall, many growers reported buckwheat yields of 20 to 30 bu. per acre.

Most of the acreage gains came in Manitoba’s Parkland region because of a new buyer contracting acres north and west of Dauphin. Don and Ben Fyk, who farm near Ethelbert, Man., are planning to build a $15 million buckwheat processing plant in the area and will need 30,000 to 50,000 acres of buckwheat to fully supply it.

Don Fyk said the products from the proposed plant, including buckwheat flour and bran, will be sold in North America.

“Right now I’m contracted with an American company that will be taking full production next year and so on,” he said last spring.

The goal is to certify the plant as a gluten free facility to tap into the sizeable market for wheat alternatives.

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