IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — A local businessman who has established Eastern Idaho as the major U.S. production area for quinoa says recent contracts have maxed out his processing capacity, and he intends to build a much larger facility.
Last October, Jeremiah Clark opened his current small plant, capable of processing up to 2 million pounds per season of the gluten-free grain. His next quinoa processing facility could be operational by the fall of 2018, with the capacity to clean and polish between 50 and 100 million pounds per season.
Clark contracted with regional growers for about 600 acres of quinoa last year. His goal for this season is to work with up to 20 growers and increase production to about 2,000 acres. Clark said he’d need to contract for about 30,000 acres to supply 60 million pounds of quinoa.
“We’re going to need to do an expansion if we’re going to grow more for 2018,” Clark said. “I figured this was our pilot system. We saved where we could and got used equipment, and I think it’s bared out to the point that, yes, this is going to be a good market, and it’s going to be worth doing it right.”
Clark declined to quote a current contract price but said grower returns for a good quinoa crop should top wheat or barley.
Clark said he’s now convinced quinoa isn’t a fad, and demand should continue to grow as food companies seek healthy, gluten-free ingredients.
Bill Day, who is in charge of the grains division with Nampa-based HB Specialty Foods, said his company recently signed a contract with Clark, impressed by the quality and color of his quinoa. Day said his employer, which has been buying quinoa from South America for making gluten-free flours and breading to supply to food manufacturers, tested Clark’s quinoa last year. Day has encouraged Clark to develop black and red quinoa varieties, in addition to the white quinoa he currently markets.
“I can tell you now, we can sell anything he can grow,” Day said.
Growers spanning from American Falls through Ashton, who have thus far planted mostly small, 5-acre plots of quinoa, will be asked to plant 40- to 50-acre fields this season. Some growers, including Wyatt Penfold of Driggs, intend to raise full pivots. Penfold, who raised 20 acres of quinoa last year and will plant at least 120 acres this year, said producing the crop on a larger scale should provide growers insight on management practices, such as controlling weeds without approved herbicides.
“We’re trying to get the field management and all of those things figured out with just a few of us before a whole bunch of people jump into it,” Penfold said. “We don’t want to have a major train wreck with a whole bunch of people.”
Clark’s growers have been raising a blend of white varieties he selected from Colorado seed. Clark has further developed a single variety from the Colorado seed, called Kailey, and intends to apply for variety protection. University of Idaho is now expanding Kailey seed in a greenhouse, and Penfold will further expand Kailey seed supplies in the field this season.