PULLMAN, Wash. - The grain-like seed crop quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has grown in popularity and likely will be grown more widely in the Pacific Northwest, thanks to a $1.6 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant recently awarded to Washington State University researchers.
Quinoa is in demand because it is a highly nutritious, high-protein, gluten-free alternative to grains and rice. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has declared 2013 the International Year of the Quinoa, with a goal to "focus world attention on the role that quinoa´s biodiversity and nutritional value play in providing food security and nutrition and the eradication of poverty."
Traditional quinoa producing countries like Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru are not keeping up with U.S. demand, said Kevin Murphy, lead scientist and plant breeder for the WSU project.
"Demand is driving distributors, wholesalers and retailers to seek domestic, reliable sources of quinoa, and this spells opportunity for Pacific Northwest farmers," he said. "Consumers want organic and local sources of quinoa."
The WSU project aims to identify the best varieties suited for organic production in the region, develop best management practices for production and assess market demand and future marketing options for quinoa growers and sellers.
Quinoa's potential to increase options for regional farmers and locavores, as well as to address global food security, lies in its adaptability to marginal growing conditions.
"Compared to other crops, quinoa has excellent drought and salinity tolerance," Murphy said. "Quinoa can adapt to many environmental and climatic conditions. It thrives in a wide range of soil pH and tolerates light frost and late rains."
A needed improvement is heat tolerance. So far, Murphy's trials indicate that varieties bred from Chilean germplasm are best adapted to high maximum temperatures in the Pacific Northwest.
WSU will host the International Quinoa Research Symposium Aug. 12-14 in conjunction with the International Year of the Quinoa. Researchers from around the world will gather in Pullman, Wash. to learn about research, varieties and breeding field trials.