by DAVE PINK
A Waterloo area farmer says he’s now convinced that quinoa can be grown successfully in Ontario, and he’s planning to plant some again next year.
“From my perspective, it seems incredibly easy to grow,” said Trevor Herrle-Braun. He planted a five-acre test plot in June, in a partnership deal with Katan Kitchens, after receiving a Twitter tweet from the Thames Valley Soil and Crop Association telling that growers were needed.
“We had the five acres to spare. If we hadn’t planted this, I would probably have let it go fallow. But we thought, ‘Let’s try it.’ ”
Bad weather delayed the harvest until December, but Herrle-Braun says the results are encouraging.
“With some of the high winds and the little snow we had, some of the crop was lying on the ground. With quinoa being such a small seed, a lot of other chaff and debris came with the final product,” he said. He filled three four-foot by four-foot by four-foot totes, but the final crop numbers won’t be known until it’s cleaned up and weighed.
“If we get 35 to 40 per cent yield I would say that is a success,” he said.
Health food enthusiasts regard quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) as a kind of super food. It’s very high in protein, is gluten free, and rich in minerals. It’s most often compared to rice, but is more closely related to spinach and beets. Typically, the tiny seeds are added to soups and salads, and the Canadian demand for it has soared in recent years.
But the seeds have a hard, bitter coating that must be removed before it sold to the public.
Almost all of the quinoa sold in Canada is imported from Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, but Katan Kitchens – a health food development company – believes it can be successfully grown in Ontario. Katan Kitchens owner Jamie Draves recently entered into an agreement with Value Chain International, a marketing company, to determine the long-range production and sales possibilities for quinoa in Canada.
“We have buyers and distributors ready. It’s the Ontario infrastructure and collaborations that we will develop over the next period,” said Draves. “This summer was a lot about trialing different varieties across different soils and locations, and we learned a lot.”
“We were very pleased to see that the protein values and nutritional value in the southern Ontario quinoa were higher that the South American commercial quinoa,” he said. And, “we were intrigued by the northern Ontario quinoa being even higher in protein and nutrients.”
In all, Draves said 13 farmers across Ontario were growing quinoa this year on about 200 acres.
“It was time to test the boundaries so we have a clear idea of which farmers are best to partner with when we have a facility available to process the local quinoa on a large scale,” said Draves.
“There’s a trend in the market,” says Value Chain spokesperson Martin Gooch. “We know the demand is there. Whether, it’s viable, we’ll know after the first year. We will be benchmarking it objectively.”
Herrle-Braun has seen the growing demand for quinoa on a first-hand basis, at the family-owned garden market across the road from his farm. “We have a big market for it,” he says.
Quinoa is planted with the same equipment needed for alfalfa. The variety planted by Herrle-Braun takes between 100 and 120 days to grow and mature, and is harvested by combine.
Because quinoa is a broadleaf plant, controlling the broadleaf weeds that attack it has been a problem with other Ontario growers. Herrle-Braun said he applied a glyphosate-based herbicide to the ground before planting, and that there seemed to be very few problems with weed infestation.
“There were some grasses, but not too many other problems,” he said. “It was a real clean field. It grows quickly, and it needs very little water to germinate, and it doesn’t need much more water until it flowers.”
The Herrle-Braun test plot was on sandy loam.
“We want to get into it bigger. It could be very lucrative,” he said. “I’d be really positive if it had a herbicide. It’s hard to grow a field crop like this organically.”
Herrle-Braun is no stranger to test plots. In recent years, he’s also done trials for new varieties of sweet corn, peas and beans.
Draves said that with any new crop there is a learning curve, but the potential rewards are worth it. “After you get past corn, wheat and soybeans, most other crops are a challenge. But what we have seen here with quinoa is enough for us to see that this could be a viable commodity.
“We are well on our way.” BF