Superfood opportunity for wheat growers

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Australian quinoa trials are expanding as farmers explore the possibility of growing the South American ‘superfood’ locally to meet booming domestic demand, currently met by imports from Peru and Bolivia.

A special Economic Note from National Australia Bank (NAB) Agribusiness reports that international quinoa implied export prices reached a peak in early 2014 at nearly $8 a kilogram compared with $2.50 two years ago.

General Manager of NAB Agribusiness, Khan Horne, says quinoa could have future use as a valuable break crop for wheat growers, but is not a replacement for wheat at this point in time.

“Australian quinoa imports increased 137 per cent in 2013-14 year on year as consumers discovered this previously little-known product.

“Quinoa trials are underway in Western Australia, and as growers gain more experience, it will become clearer whether quinoa cultivation has a commercial future in Australia,” he said.

Quinoa is a high protein, gluten free grain native to the Andes and has long been a staple in Bolivia and Peru. Since 2008, global quinoa consumption has boomed, and with minimal production outside the Andes, prices are skyrocketing.

“There are potential benefits from diversification for wheat producers, but concerns remain around reliability of yield, weed control and marketing,” Mr Horne said.

“Several growers in Western Australia and Tasmania, as well as researchers at the Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food have harvested crops and a fledging market for the local product seems to be developing,” he said.

In Western Australia, there are trials located at Narrogin in the wheatbelt and Kununurra in the Ord River irrigation area. Some trials have introduced greater mechanisation, using infrastructure shared with wheat production.

Much of quinoa’s appeal stems from its gluten free status, which poses the challenge of preventing cross-contamination and upholding certification requirements where there is shared use of headers and silos for wheat.

“While the strong price growth may tempt producers to switch to quinoa, there are a number of risks for growers to consider. Challenges around weed control, poor tolerance of water-logging, highly variable yield, and a lack of domestic transport and marketing arrangements are being addressed as trials continue..

“This is certainly a space we’ll continue to monitor,” said Mr Horne.

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