Researchers investigate quinoa for PCN control

Pat Kole, vice president of legal and government affairs, inspects a quinoa field in Firth, Idaho, along with quinoa wholesale supplier Jeremiah Clark, left rear, and grower David Mundt, rear right. At Kole's request, the University of Idaho is conducting a trial to determine the potential to use quinoa as a tool in Idaho's pale cyst nematode eradication program.

FIRTH, Idaho — One of Eastern Idaho’s newest and most promising specialty crops may also provide another tool for growers in the region looking to suppress a quarantined pest, pale cyst nematode.

For the past few years, the region’s growers have slowly increased their planted acreage of quinoa, an ancient, gluten-free grain native to Peru valued for its high nutritional content.

Ten local quinoa growers are raising about 600 acres of the crop, but those numbers could rise markedly if a University of Idaho trial conducted at the Idaho Potato Commission’s behest demonstrates quinoa can help control PCN, as research in South America has demonstrated.

Idaho’s PCN species, discovered in 2006, is known to exist in the U.S. only within a 7.5-mile radius encompassing prime potato production acres in Bingham and Bonneville counties. USDA is treating 2,897 infested acres, and the program includes another 7,032 acres governed by special testing and sanitation requirements due to associations with infested fields.

The program abandoned the use of its most effective treatment, methyl bromide, in May 2014 due to concerns about it carrying over into subsequent crops. The program has been moving toward planting litchi tomato as a so-called trap crop, which stimulates hatching of cysts in the absence of a viable host, but the plant presents special challenges due to its current status as a weed.

“(Quinoa) would be a cash crop rather than growing litchi tomato,” said Brian Searle, president of Idaho Farm Bureau Federation and a regulated grower who serves on a PCN advisory committee. “Not only would it be a payment, but litchi tomato is on the invasive species list. Litchi tomato, I think, is falling off the list of options real fast.”

On the morning of June 2, Pat Kole, IPC’s vice president of legal and government affairs, evaluated a small quinoa field in Firth, on ground that was recently deregulated from the PCN associated fields list.

Kole said UI has planted quinoa varieties in a greenhouse, along with PCN eggs. Results of the trial should be available within a month, he said. Furthermore, Inga Zasada, a nematologist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Corvallis, Ore., confirmed plans to test several plant species, including quinoa, against PCN at the request of Louise-Marie Dandurand, director of UI’s pale cyst nematode project. Zasada knows of a single paper from Bolivia highlighting quinoa’s effectiveness at controlling PCN.

Kole explained he thought of testing quinoa after hearing a speech in Boise by Jeremiah Clark, an Idaho Falls businessman who has bred quinoa varieties for the region and is marketing the growers’ production. Kole said PCN, like quinoa, is a native of Peru. A quick literature check confirmed to Kole that quinoa may emit a natural nematicide.

“I got a hold of some researchers at UI. They agreed they would take some seed from Jeremiah,” Kole said, adding the addition of quinoa into the PCN program could also give Clark’s business a major boost. “They could have a crop that helps them both financially and in terms of dealing with the nematode issue.”

Clark said prices paid for quinoa are down, but he sees great long-term demand.

“As long as we can compete with Peru, there’s a 200 to 300 million pound market for it every year,” Clark said, adding quinoa could also be chopped for forage.

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