By MATTHEW WEAVER
Farmers could see a variety of quinoa adapted specifically to the Pacific Northwest within two or three years, a Washington State University breeder says.
WSU is testing quinoa developed by Brigham Young University in Utah, said Kevin Murphy, WSU assistant research professor. WSU will conduct a large-scale variety trial on organic sites in several states from 2013 to 2016.
Fifteen to 20 lines look promising from the first year of field study, Murphy said, and will be included in variety trials in Oregon, Utah and Washington state this year. Researchers tested 350 lines of quinoa last year and hope to test 400 lines this year.
If lines perform well for two years in the multi-state trials, even in one specific location, Murphy said a variety would likely be released.
WSU graduate student Adam Peterson is working to fast-track new quinoa crosses made in university greenhouses, Murphy said.
"Hopefully just by working really collaboratively with BYU researchers, we'll be able to get new varieties out to growers, hopefully fairly soon," he said.
Closely related to beets, spinach and common lambsquarters, quinoa -- pronounced KEEN-wah -- is a pseudocereal that has generated a high level of interest among Northwest growers as a possible rotation crop.
Primarily sold as seed that is prepared like grain, quinoa is gluten-free and noted for its high level of essential amino acids, vitamins and fatty acids.
Quinoa is known to be drought tolerant and tolerates high saline soils while maintaining high yields, but it is susceptible to heat, Murphy said.
"If you are hoping to grow quinoa in your environment, if it's over 95 degrees, especially during key times like pollen formation, it can lead to essentially sterile quinoa heads," Murphy said.
WSU is also working to develop heat-tolerant quinoa varieties, he said.
Researchers are looking for a quinoa variety that matures early enough for harvest before fall cold and rains arrive, Murphy said. Other key traits include lodging and sprouting resistance and a benchmark yield of roughly 1,000 pounds per acre, a yield reported in quinoa production in Colorado.
For farmers who want to try growing the crop, Murphy recommends using a good source of seeds, including Wild Garden Seeds in Philomath, Ore., and sellers in California, Canada, Colorado and Missouri.
"If you're going to try them, I'd recommend trying as many as you can, just see which ones do the best and then focus on those," Murphy said.
He cautioned that some growers have purchased seed from Bolivia or Ecuador at cooperatives, distributors or chain stores, but it often doesn't perform as well in the Northwest.
Northwest researchers have found the most success using lines of quinoa from southcentral Chile, he said.
Murphy spoke during an eOrganic webinar about WSU's efforts to breed quinoa for organic and conventional farming systems, including no-till. He is working with researchers at BYU, Oregon State University and Utah State University.