A superfast superfood
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 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 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 his team 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 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. It looks like it has a real fit in farming in the Wheatbelt.”
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. It is almost like a fallow crop in that it uses very little water and that makes next year’s cereals so much better because it conserves a lot of sub-soil moisture.
“Weed control is a challenge, but it is a very efficient crop and doesn’t take all of the nutrition out of the soil.”
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.
Mr Wiese said AGS was in talks with major customers frustrated with trying to get regular supplies out of South America who wanted good quality assurance and a reliable supply chain.
© The West Australian
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