Friday, May 13, 2016

Quinoa getting so popular that it could become a big thing in California, No.1 agricultural state

Quinoa ("KIN-wah"), a native crop of South America's Andes Mountains, could be on the verge of being the next big California-grown crop that feeds the nation, Geoffrey Mohan reports for the Los Angeles Times. If quinoa, which is now being harvested in Southern California's Imperial Valley, near the Mexican border, "proves profitable here, California could dominate yet another niche crop, as the grain-like seed graduates from health-craze fad to a popular ingredient in energy bars, cereals and even drinks. Acreage dedicated to quinoa may reach into the thousands in the next two years in California, a state that already is a hub for quinoa imported from South America. That's about where kale was in 2007 before it took off." (Times photo by Irfan Khan: Quinoa grown in Southern California)

"Chenopodium quinoa is not a grain, but a pseudo-cereal, an herbaceous annual that's a cousin to beets, chard and spinach and offers a balanced suite of 10 amino acids. Its leaves make a sweet pesto, but it's the seeds that land on consumers' plates," Mohan writes. "There are at least 120 varieties of quinoa, and plant scientists have sifted through most of them trying to figure out which can grow well outside the high and dry altiplano that sprawls across Peru and Bolivia." Quinoa has been grown in the U.S. in Colorado, the Pacific Northwest, Idaho, Northern California, and now in the heart of the Sonoran Desert in Southern California.

"Andean nations now export more than 40,000 tons of quinoa, valued at $111 million—a nearly 40-fold increase since 2002, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Program," Mohan writes. "More than half of that goes to the U.S." One concern among U.S. growers new to the product is that quinoa "is nearly identical to lambsquarters (Chenopodium album), an invasive weed that can be toxic to livestock and hosts a virus that can ruin alfalfa, which is planted on more acreage in Imperial Valley than any other crop, and ranks second in sales value only to the cattle that eat it." (Read more)

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