Quinoa acres expanding rapidly

CNS Canada — Canadian quinoa acres have climbed drastically this season and are expected to continue climbing, according to an official with the country’s only quinoa processor.

“As of today we have 5,070 acres with 38 different growers,” said Michael Dutcheshen, general manager at Northern Quinoa Corp. (NorQuin), a specialty grain and food processing company in Saskatoon.

“The most we’ve done in any given year was 1,600 acres. Last year was at about 1,530 acres, so this is our biggest expansion in acreage and next year we hope to double this at least as minimum.”

The majority of those 38 quinoa producers are in Saskatchewan, where the South American crop was first introduced to Canada. Manitoba started producing quinoa in the 1990s and there are now 10 growers — including one with 600 acres, the biggest quinoa producer in the country.

Dutcheshen also mentioned that last year quinoa production expanded into Alberta, where there are now four growers.

“There’s more than enough interest here from growers and this is the best area to grow it in, in the Prairies,” said Dutcheshen. “There’s way more than enough land in the prairies for growing quinoa, probably more than South America has.”

Quinoa originated in South America and has been grown and consumed there for thousands of years, according to NorQuin’s website. In recent years, it has increased in popularity as a healthy food product in North America as it is high in protein, gluten-free and versatile to a variety of cooking styles.

Seeding is currently underway for Canadian quinoa producers, and close to be complete, according to Dutcheshen.

“Quinoa likes dry weather, which is kind of a contradiction in some sense because it grows best north of Highway 16,” said Dutcheshen. “So dry land in those area is better for quinoa. It doesn’t like to sit too wet, but I guess it’s not overly picky either.”

Prices on the Canadian quinoa market are rising, he said, and the biggest challenge is remaining competitive with their biggest rival, South America. Dutcheshen added he couldn’t provide exact prices as they were internal to the company.

“If South American prices can continue to rise we will pay our farmers more next year. If it goes down then we may have to drop our pricing, depending on how things go,” said Dutcheshen.

“Sometimes it is difficult for us to compete with South America because they have lower, cheaper labour costs in everything they’ve got. Here, in those instances when there’s an excess production, we have trouble competing because we still have to compete against other crops, such as wheat.”

The biggest demand for quinoa is in North America as a healthy food product, with the majority of the demand coming from the U.S.

“Besides the U.S., Peru has a lot of internal consumption, so does Bolivia,” Dutcheshen added. “But we kind of focus on staying in North America, that’s where most of our quinoa goes. We do get other requests for export as well, we have exported to Hong Kong and Korea, so there’s always options for export but where we do most of our marketing is right here.”

— Marney Blunt writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.


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