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Strong price competition affects buckwheat

A buckwheat de-hulling plant in Manitoba says contracted acres are down this year because fewer growers were interested in the crop. | File photo

Acres are expected to be down this year because of high prices for other commodities such as canola and soybeans

In most years, a contract price of $17 per bushel is sufficiently high to entice farmers to grow a crop.

That’s not the case in 2021 for buckwheat.

With canola at $15 to $18 per bushel and soybean futures around US $14.50, it’s difficult to convince a farmer to try an unfamiliar crop like buckwheat.

“A lot of times, buckwheat goes in (late), a last resort kind of crop,” said Albert Dohan, who lives near Ethelbert, Man., and is a board member with the Manitoba Buckwheat Growers Association.

“This year, the spring being early and the (strong) commodity prices for beans, peas and canola … that had a big effect on (buckwheat).”

As a result, buckwheat acres will likely drop this year in Manitoba. It won’t be a huge tumble because buckwheat is a minor crop in the province.

Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp., the provincial crop insurer, typically reports 5,000 to 7,000 acres of buckwheat in Manitoba.

This year it is 5,681 acres, compared to 6,766 in 2019, 4,848 in 2018 and 5,645 in 2017.

Those numbers could be 3,000 to 5,000 acres higher because some farmers don’t insure their buckwheat so their acres wouldn’t be recorded by the insurer.

Much of the crop is now grown in the parkland region. Fyk Soba, a buckwheat de-hulling plant in Garland, Man., northwest of Dauphin, is the major buyer of the crop in Manitoba.

Don Fyk, who runs Fyk Soba with his brother, Ben, said their contracted acres are down this year because fewer growers were interested in buckwheat. They’re also growing fewer acres on their own farm because of crop rotation issues.

The Fyks are disappointed that more growers won’t try buckwheat, a low-cost crop that requires few nutrients and can be profitable. However, they remain hopeful about the future. They have plans to expand their processing plant, which would create more demand in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

In the meantime, more farmers in North Dakota are starting to grow buckwheat.

“The U.S. has picked up a lot of acres and production that we used to ship to Japan,” said Rejean Picard, farm production extension specialist with Manitoba Agriculture.

Buckwheat grown in North America is exported to Japan, where it’s used to make buckwheat noodles or sold into the domestic market as an ingredient for gluten-free baked goods.

This spring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture expanded the number of North Dakota counties where buckwheat is eligible for federally backed crop insurance. The USDA also added three counties in Montana.

Buckwheat acres are slowly rising in North Dakota, going from 9,500 in 2017 to 11,500 in 2019.

That’s nothing compared to spring wheat or soybeans, but a few North Dakota growers are trying the crop or expanding acres.

Jeremy Peterson, vice-president of Minn-Dak Growers Ltd. in Grand Forks, N.D., told AgWeek that growers in Minnesota and Iowa are also interested in buckwheat, but some are waiting on USDA-backed insurance.

“Right now, we’re sitting with a 25 cent (per pound) contract, which is very good — competitive to wheat, but with low inputs.”

Minn-Dak is the largest processor of buckwheat in the U.S.

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