Quinoa not for the faint-hearted

Jo FulwoodCountryman
Richard Snowball in his quinoa trial at Cunderdin, said disappointing harvest results have illustrated the sensitivity of the quinoa to cold September temperatures.
Camera IconRichard Snowball in his quinoa trial at Cunderdin, said disappointing harvest results have illustrated the sensitivity of the quinoa to cold September temperatures. Credit: Jo Fulwood

For those thinking of diversifying into quinoa next season, results from trials run in the central and northern grainbelts may prove to be timely.

Disappointing harvest results at both trial sites in Cunderdin and Mingenew have demonstrated that investing in a quinoa is not for the faint-hearted, and growing the crop should only be considered a long-term venture.

The trials, run by the Department of Agriculture and Food WA, investigated time of sowing using three different varieties planted at the three different times of early May, late May and mid-June at Cunderdin, and mid-April, mid-May and mid-June at Mingenew.

DAFWA research officer Richard Snowball said he believed the poor harvest yields were because the quinoa plant was adversely affected by temperatures below 2 or 3 degrees during the flowering stage.

However, Mr Snowball cautioned that this would need to be confirmed through more controlled experiments.

While he said harvest data was yet to be analysed, the poor yields had been obvious during the harvest process.

“We didn’t even harvest the first sown trial plot in Cunderdin because frost had affected the flowering of all the plants,” he said.

Mr Snowball said the early sown trial at Mingenew yielded 400kg/ha and managed to escape the cold September temperatures better than the later sown plots.

This was compared to some crops grown in Narrogin that yielded up to 1t/ha.

“It is likely that quinoa will yield well in years with average or warmer than average September minimum temperatures, particularly in the northern Wheatbelt and in milder regions closer to the coast,” he said.

“Sowing later in June or July should also reduce the impact of cold temperatures during flowering, however, the crops would be more at risk from higher daytime temperatures and water deficit.”

Mr Snowball said putting aside the poor harvest results, it appeared good early establishment was crucial for the crop to survive and thrive.

“Quinoa seems to yield the best with a mid-winter planting time, meaning it’s a very cold period for plant growth, so we need to set the crop up in the best way possible to facilitate this early germination,” he said.

Mr Snowball said preparing a smooth seed bed was important to ensure the uniform sowing depth of about one centimetre.

“You also need to make the decision to plant quinoa several years out so that you are sowing into an extremely clean, or weed-free paddock, given the limited options available for weed control in quinoa crops,” he said.

Mr Snowball said trials using seed from Chilean quinoa landraces, planted in October in Manjimup, were looking positive at this early stage in the crop.

“While I have had to irrigate those trials once in November, and will probably do so again soon, those plants are looking extremely healthy,” he said.

“These trial results have certainly made it obvious that planting quinoa in the Wheatbelt is a risky move but we still need to quantify what those specific risks are.”

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