By Andy Labdon
The push to grow the little-known speciality quinoa crop was evident in a presentation to farmers held in Wadena last week.
About a dozen attended the event sponsored by Northern Quinoa Production Corporation (NQPC) of Saskatoon on March, 9 with Dan Bolton as presenter.
Pronounced ‘keen-wa,’ the crop is as popular in the Andes region of South America as rice is to China, and has been used for a millennia. Unlike rice, it is considered one of the world’s most perfect foods. Grown in a cool, dry climate on the high elevations of the Andes, quinoa is frost-tolerant and is gaining popularity on the prairies, which have a similar climate.
As a ‘pseudo-cereal,’ it is a plant that produces fruits or seeds that are used and consumed as grains. Botanically, pseudo-cereals are neither grasses nor true cereal grains. It is high in carbohydrates, protein, nutrients, fibre and essential vitamins. It also belongs to that rare group of foods considered to be a complete protein source.
“Through consumption the end-user is exposed to all nine essential amino acids the human body requires,” producers were told.
Quinoa has also become the go-to meat replacement for the vegan community – vegetarians who do not eat either meat or dairy – and as an added bonus it is also gluten free. The end use for this speciality crop is quite diverse, from cereal bars and pastas and pet foods, to cosmetics, beers and whiskey.
In 2010 it gained huge popularity after TV show host Oprah Winfrey sang its praises. The imported annual tonnage of quinoa into the U.S.A. has since risen from 50,000 tonnes to today’s estimated two million tonnes.
Since 1992 NQPC has contracted thousands of acres in Western Canada as well as developed their own variants of seeds that grow well in the Canadian climate. A quinoa crop will thrive in both black or brown soil zones and prefers a 7-10 degree soil temperature. Usually seeding takes place in the first three weeks of May with a crop maturing 110 days later. The seed germinates and emerges quickly usually in 3-5 days.
Conventional seeding methods are recommended, citing it is similar to canola. Water requirements are minimal due its penchant to the dryer climate, 10-15 inches of precipitation and irrigation combined on sandy loam to loamy sandy soils is recommended.
“This crop does not like land where water pools, as it is often said that quinoa does not like ‘wet feet’,” stated NQPC.
Presenters stated they have seen quinoa do well after following a crop of oats, but they did reiterate the land has to be clean land to start with an ideal pH of 6.0-6.5, and seed must be planted on land near or north of Hwy. 16. The further north, the better the crop.
Burn off is a must, as quinoa is a poor competitor with weeds and as this is a relatively new speciality crop, there is no insurance coverage and there are no registered pesticides. However, NPQC added they will advise on what fertilizer and/or pesticides to use.
Harvesting of quinoa is relatively simple, a straight cut is recommended with the crop passing through the front end of the combine like wheat, and canola on the back end. Unlike say hemp, this crop does not wrap around the headers as it is not fibrous.
Quinoa is a high-risk, high-return speciality crop not for the faint hearted, said NPQC or those strongly adverse to risk.
Quinoa: New ‘miracle crop’ hits town
By Andy Labdon