The ancient crop of the Incas, quinoa was cultivated in the Andean region of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, for thousands of years before scientists discovered its high nutritional value, spawning interest from western health-food markets.
Now prevalent in mainstream supermarkets, consumer demand for the South American seed has soared, trebling crop prices in recent years and increasing revenue for indigenous growers.
Its rising popularity in the US, Europe, China and Japan, where the crop is not typically grown, suggests significant opportunities for Australian growers, with RIRDC research confirming quinoa’s tolerance to drought, salinity and cold conditions.
As Australia’s first commercial quinoa producers, Lauran and Henriette Damen are leading the charge at their 237-hectare property on Tasmania’s north-west coast, where they have 25ha under quinoa. Their 2013 crop was their fifth.
“We market the quinoa ourselves but initially had to do a lot of convincing to get people to try it,” Lauran says. “Our growth has corresponded with growing awareness of quinoa’s health properties, and the Australian product and fewer food miles also appeal to consumers.”
The seeds are cleaned, polished and packaged on-farm, then sold to retailers in Tasmania and wholesalers in Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland under the Damens’ ‘Kindred Organics’ label.
“We receive a premium for our product but it’s like every commodity; you cannot go too far out of the range,” Lauran says.
With the area’s moderate-to-cool climate and high rainfall (1000 millimetres) considered ideal for the production of ancient grains, the Damens also grow commercial quantities of oats, spelt (which they mill themselves) and buckwheat.
“Ancient grains are more resilient than modern grains and better suited to organic farming because they do not require chemical inputs,” Lauran says.
The property was gradually converted to organic principles and fully certified in 2010. Today the sole inputs are organic compost and blood and bone from a nearby meat works. Grass clover rotations and grazing beef cattle boost soil fertility.
Future plans include experimenting with new crops for the domestic health-food market.
Survey shows grain growers lead biosecurity
Italy’s rustic staple enjoys a rebirth
National, North, Overseas, South