Keen-what? Quinoa: Things
to consider for quinoa production
2013 has been named the International Year of Quinoa (IYQ) by the
Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). Quinoa
(Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) is a specialty small grain (pseudo-grain)
of Andean origin and is of increasing interest to organic producers
across Ontario. The grain first appeared in health food stores a
number of years ago thanks to its gluten free reputation and high
protein content. It is now found in the main grocery chains across
Canada and is also featured as a main ingredient for recipes by
celebrity chefs and in various restaurants. During the IYQ, a number
of programs and resources have been developed to celebrate the importance
of the crop including the International Quinoa Research Symposium
which took place in August, 2013. Various presentations from the
symposium are now available on the eOrganic website.
With increasing popularity of the crop, a few research projects
have taken place in Ontario over the last four years to better understand
the regional requirements for quinoa production in the province.
Organisations such as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ontario
Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Ministry of Rural Affairs,
Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association and others have begun
to develop quinoa information for Ontario growers. Although many
Ontario farmers have tried growing quinoa on a small scale, there
are some issues that one should be aware of when thinking about
commercial production of the crop.
- Access to bulk seed - quinoa seed is not currently available
in bulk from standard seed providers; however, many seed houses
are increasing the availability and number of quinoa varieties
in small quantities across Canada and the USA. Since quinoa is
self-pollenated, one can bulk up seed for future crops and a larger
production acreage. Quinoa has very particular environmental requirements
for seed production and may exhibit pollen sterility at temperatures
above 28oC. In order to bulk up seed of varieties that are suited
to your growing region, it is important to obtain as many varieties
as possible and plant them in test plots on your farm. Observe
which varieties work in your region and save the seed for future
plantings. Varieties that have been successful in Ontario to date
include 'Brightest Brilliant' (Figure 1), 'Faro' and 'Temuco'
Quinoa variety 'Brightest Brilliant' growing in Ontario demonstration
- Weed management - quinoa is closely related to Lamb's-quarters
(Chenopodium album L.), a common weed in Ontario. Experiences
in provincial field trials have found that Lamb's-quarters appears
to be more aggressive than quinoa and weed pressure can severely
impact growth of the crop. Early season weed management via inter-row
cultivation or other mechanical means is important for proper
quinoa growth (Figures 2 and 3). Cultural management options such
as modified row spacings may increase competition and reduce weed
pressure in the field. To date, row spacings from 50 cm to 75
cm have been used in Ontario field trials and demonstration plots.
Research trials in Denmark have also utilised 20 cm row spacings.
In the Ontario field trials, 50 cm row spacings appeared to provide
more competition against weeds compared to 75 cm but the effects
of narrower row spacings on weed pressure and yield were not directly
assessed. Note: there are no organic or conventional herbicides
(or other pest control products) registered for use on quinoa
Ontario field trials, 2011 - early season weeds between rows of
quinoa prior to cultivation.
Ontario field trials, 2011 - mid-season quinoa field plots with
minimal weed management.
- Harvest and Post-harvest processing - quinoa is a small, disk-shaped
grain that can be mechanically harvested using a combine (Figure
4). Appropriate size screens and concaves are required to prevent
loss or damage of the seed. Following harvest, quinoa must be
processed to remove saponin from the seed surface before marketing
to consumers. Saponin is a bitter, soapy compound produced by
the plant and can be removed by a grain dehuller and washtable.
Some quinoa producers also use a rice polisher as a final step
to ensure all saponin has been removed from the seed. If saponin
remains on the seed, consumers may be put off by the bitter flavour,
ultimately affecting future sales. Some quinoa packaging suggests
the consumer rinse the product before cooking to ensure all saponin
has been removed prior to consumption. Note: if the purpose of
growing the crop is to increase bulk seed for future plantings,
one should not process the seed in order to preserve germination
Small, disk-like shape of quinoa seed.
These are just a few crop specific issues to be aware of when considering
quinoa production in Ontario. More detailed agronomic and pest management
information for quinoa is available in the OMAF
and MRA Specialty Cropportunities website. You can also find
more general information on the IYQ