Quinoa grows into market gold
WA's fledging quinoa industry is growing at an incredible rate as a group of growers continue to unlock the secrets of the ancient South American food.
They expect to harvest a 1000-tonne crop this season, a big jump from their 180-tonne crop a year ago and the 14 tonnes in 2012-13.
The result has put WA's Wheatbelt in the spotlight of food manufacturing companies ready to roll out quinoa products but being held back by a lack of reliable supply.
Ashley Wiese, who with business partners Megan Gooding and Garren Knell pioneered quinoa growing in WA, said it was fast emerging as a valuable crop for the Wheatbelt.
They have established a pilot plant in Narrogin to process what has become one of the world's most sought-after foods because of its amino acid balance, gluten-free status, low GI and high fibre component.
Their company, Australian Grown Superfoods, is also sending bags of quinoa to Victoria and California for processing.
Mr Wiese said quinoa continued to surprise them and about 15 other growers who were part of the company's supply chain.
This season's stunning crop grew at a Jack and the Beanstalk-like rate after a disastrous start. A misstep in weed control all but wiped it out but the growers re-seeded and the quinoa came into its own.
Looking across a sea of red and almost harvest-ready quinoa on his Highbury farm, Mr Wiese said it grew from nothing in what seemed like no time.
"In the space of one month it went from ankle-height to waist-height," he said. "Once conditions are right, it just grows dramatically."
Mr Wiese and his partners are developing an agronomy package that fits quinoa into the crop rotations of wheat growers.
"We believe it can fit into rotations as an alternative to canola," he said. "It is a great disease-break crop, which makes the whole farming system more sustainable."
The WA group is producing the only major crop of quinoa in Australia and is convinced it is just a matter of time before a major processing plant is built.
Quinoa is expected to make the transition from a niche product into a major commodity over the next few years.
Peru has upset Bolivia, the home of quinoa, by doubling production to 95,000 tonnes in the past 12 months and dumping it on export markets.
In contrast to Bolivia's small-scale organic growers, the Peruvians are using an intensive farming method that relies on insecticides and chemical fertilisers
Mr Wiese said AGS was in talks with major customers frustrated with trying to get regular supplies out of South America. They wanted good quality assurance and a reliable supply chain.
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