On a winner with quinoa

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Jenne BrammerCountryman
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WA’s first large-scale quinoa processing plant is up and running.

The $1.5 million facility on the Wiese family farm at Highbury, near Narrogin, can process about 5000 tonnes of quinoa annually — enough to satisfy Australian demand for the originally South American superfood.

However, Ashley Wiese, who is in partnership with Dumbleyung farmer Megan Gooding and agronomist Garren Knell in their business Three Farmers, said they would aim to process just 500 tonnes in 2016.

“We are a few years from running at full capacity. We want to match supply with demand and increase production gradually,” Mr Wiese said.

In Australia, Coles will be the main stockist of the superfood, and contributed $500,000 towards construction of the Highbury plant from its Nurture Fund. The Nurture Fund was launched last year and aims to support businesses in the food and grocery sector.

“At the moment Coles is taking the majority of what we are producing and our first priority is to keep their supply chain full. As we get more production, then we can start looking to other markets and increase our processing capacity,” Mr Wiese said.

He said Three Farmers had a core group of about 15 growers who would supply Australian Grown Superfoods with the grain. The plant is also sourcing quinoa grown in the Ord River, which will help the plant operate throughout the year.

Mr Wiese said while there was room to take on more growers, the difficult nature of growing the crop meant they had to be particularly selective. One of the challenges with growing the broadleaf quinoa is the difficulty in controlling weeds, so it is important farmers have the right rotations, and farm in certain areas with certain soil types.

Mr Wiese will grow about 430ha himself this season, similar to the amounts grown in previous years. He said quinoa yields about half that of canola, but last year’s harvest was particularly poor because of the hot spring.

Initially, Mr Wiese expects the plant will run for about one week a month, with help from existing farm staff. As the tonnages processed increases, there will be the need to take on dedicated staff.

The processing essentially revolves around removing a bitter coating called saponin. The processed grain is then packaged in bags and 10kg bags and then sent off-site for re-packaging into smaller bags suitable for supermarket shelves.

Prior to the building of the plant, Three Farmers faced sending its quinoa to the US for processing.

Meanwhile, the Three Farmers team has been promoting quinoa as a superfood to the end customer, by holding a stall at the Expo at the weekend in Perth. The locally grown quinoa will be available in Coles stores Australia-wide from April 11.

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