Quinoa shows potential for high profit crop 28 Jul 2015

A three year national trial of the health food quinoa has commenced across five Australian states.

Pronounced ‘keen-wah’, the grain has gained popularity over the past decade, prompting increasing production in South America, Europe and Asia.

The project, funded by Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, is co-funded and led by the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA), with in-kind contributions from participating States.

Field trials will be planted in the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia.

Project leader Richard Snowball said research would evaluate the agronomy and suitability of growing quinoa.

“Early indications suggest quinoa could be a highly profitable crop, given it’s not a very difficult crop to grow, particularly when grown under irrigation in warmer environments,” Mr Snowball said.

“In southern climates quinoa could be an ideal crop for wheat, canola and barley growers, as the growing process is similar. By adding quinoa to the mix of crops, it could take the pressure off rotations that are at risk of disease and weeds.”

Scientists plan to work closely with industry during the project, including testing seed processing techniques, and also test the amino acid balance within the protein, for which quinoa is highly regarded.

The project will build on DAFWA research on quinoa at its Kununurra Research Facility, over the past three years.

Facility manager Mark Warmington said results showed much promise for the future of quinoa production in Australia.

“Early trials under irrigation have revealed a typical crop produces a yield of between 2-3 tonnes per hectare,” Mr Warmington said.

“When you factor that in to the current price of quinoa, of between $1400-4000/tonne or more and the high consumer demand, the future for the crop and growers’ profitability looks bright.”

Lauran and Henriette Damen are proud to be the first farm to grow quinoa in Australia.
The organic farmers, based at Kindred in northern Tasmania, planted their first crop of quinoa eight years ago.

“We wanted to supply health food shops,” Mr Damen said. “It was hardly known when we started and we had to convince people to give it a try.”

Fast forward just a few years and quinoa has become very popular with consumers.
The Damens grow quinoa as part of a rotation, planting about 40 hectares under irrigation. They also grow spelt, oats, linseeds, buckwheat and adzuki beans.

He said quinoa is not the easiest crop to grow with yields varying between paddocks.
“In 2013-14 there was a large price rise due to demand outstripping supply but unfortunately this is now over. Luckily we invested this capital in improving the processing plant to be more efficient,” Mr Damen said.

“The climate in Tasmania suits growing quinoa well as the crop doesn’t like it too hot. It’s from a different family than most traditional grains and there are a wide variety of things that can affect it.”

RIRDC Senior Program Manager for Plant Industries, Dr John de Majnik, said it was important for farmers to plan ahead and assess whether quinoa could complement their operation.

“When it comes to diversifying in new commodities, farmers want to know they are investing in a growth or high value industry,” Dr de Majnik said.

“While quinoa seeds are not readily available in Australia yet, it is definitely one to keep on the watch list.”