IT MAY be an opportunity crop, but it couldn't be a better choice for the Maurice family at Gillinghall, east of Wellington.
Last year they tried the same in 60 hectares, but only harvested five tonnes in total.
However, this year after 60-plus millimetres of rain in January and another 100mm by mid-February, sowing in the month's third week gave hope to a good crop of buckwheat for Angus and Lucy Maurice and his parents, Rick and Brenda on Gillinghall, near Spicers Creek.
In-crop rain has been close to 250mm.
Angus Maurice said after a summer weed spray and another ahead of direct-drilling 30 kilograms/ha of seed with 80kg/ha of MAP on 30 centimeter spacing the crop jumped out of the ground.
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"It's a fast growing, fast maturing crop and I think we'll be harvesting in its ninth week," Mr Maurice said.
There's been no in-crop sprays, just one defoliating spray in about two weeks time, about five of six days before harvest.
"There's a little bit of weed underneath, but because it is so fast growing it out-competes everything else," he said. "Touch wood, we've got lucky this year as moisture, or lack of it, has not been an issue.
I don't have experience with buckwheat but I'd be hopeful of a 1.5 to two tonne per hectare yield."
The Maurice family has grown spelt, an ancient wheat, for Geoff Brown's Buckwheat Enterprises, Parkes, for up to 15 years.
"We have a really good relationship with Geoff and have grown a few other crops for him including some specialty wheats in the past as well," Mr Maurice said.
"Geoff thinks buckwheat, which is normally grown in the cooler climates on the tablelands, might just be suited to this area, and opportunistically in more areas than just the tablelands."
Mr Maurice said Geoff Brown had suggested sowing in the third week of February to get in while the weather was cooling down a bit from the middle of summer and to get it off before the frosts.
"The crop will be harvested before the end of April and then we will sow wheat straight into the paddock."
Mr Brown said nutritional benefits of buckwheat included improved heart health, reduced blood sugar, gluten free and non-allergenic, rich in dietary fibre and source of vegetarian protein.
Buckwheat has more protein than rice, wheat, millet or corn and is high in the essential amino acids lysine and arginine, in which major cereal crops are deficient and is highly regarded in Asia, especially Japan for the Soba noodle industry.
Alternative supply options
IT'S SELDOM the stars align and in agriculture when one sector begins to shine, another blocks the resultant progress.
Take the buckwheat market.
Good rains for a late crop have done wonders and like the Maurice family, at Gillinghall, near Wellington, who have a bumper 40 hectare crop grown on spec and possibly going to yield up to two tonnes per hectare, other growers are also very hopeful.
Parkes-based marketer, Buckwheat Enterprises, annually exports 500 tonne to the Japanese soba noodle market and another 500t to domestic customers and last year gained in the vicinity of $1000/t - plus.
The company's managing director, Geoff Brown, said he would pay a first payment of $250/t to his growers, who this year should produce enough buckwheat to supply his local and export demands.
He estimates at this stage the final price will reach between $700/t to $1000/t depending on three scenarios.
Return of Japanese restaurant trade, an increase in Japanese people making their own noodles at home, and filling the gap in Chinese imports to Australia.
The coronavirus has hit his major Japanese client, Sagami Foods, the biggest restaurant chain in that country and all of their restaurants have been closed.
However, Mr Brown said nearly every small town in Japan has its own small processing mill and home-bound people are looking to make their own noodles.
"This opens a new market for us and instead of bulk supply we may pack in 45 kilogram bags for delivery," Mr Brown said.
"Soba noodles are Japanese favourite food, especially in summer, so we're waiting for confirmation of orders."