Quinoa trial for Northeast upland farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2012: $9,370.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
David McClelland
Maplebank Farm

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: general grain crops


  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: feasibility study
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Proposal summary:

    Highly nutritious and palatable, quinoa is a grain (more properly a pseudocereal) which is gaining acceptance in the American marketplace. The resultant growth in demand has increased the retail price to as much as $4 per pound. Almost all quinoa sold in the US is imported from the Andes. Finding an area of the US which could produce an organic local quinoa supply would improve the income of American farmers and increase the amount of quinoa available to the American consumer while at the same time reducing the economic pressure which is driving the price of a dietary staple beyond the means of many in the Andes (as detailed in a March 20, 2011 New York Times story). In 1993 NASA investigated quinoa as one of the most valuable foods which could be grown for long duration space travel because of its high protein content and remarkably balanced amino acid ratios (NASA Technical Paper 3422). In the last decade quinoa has gained a reputation as a gluten-free, nutritionally valuable food which is delicious and easy to integrate into the American diet. Because the important American crops, corn, soybeans, and wheat dominate the best soil regions of the US, quinoa might prove to be an interesting alternative crop for those regions which are not well suited to such large-scale farming. Quinoa, much like buckwheat, requires cool night time temperatures to set viable seed. Since buckwheat is well adapted to many of the higher altitude farms of mountain Pennsylvania, the Southern Tier and Catskill areas of New York, the Berkshire region of Massachusetts, and the entire states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, quinoa may grow in the same areas. Preliminary investigation suggests that this is probable but there is a lack of solid quantifiable data with which a prospective farmer can form a decision about risking the time, land and effort of trying this new crop even if high prices in the marketplace make quinoa an attractive income addition for small farms. Although the quinoa which is for sale on the shelves is only differentiated by color, red, white or black, there are a number of named varieties some of which were developed for growing on US farms. There is no widespread knowledge of which varieties are suitable for which altitudes or which soil types or which climates. By running a trial of 4 different varieties on a specific soil type in western New York at an altitude of 2000 feet with a record of the seasonal rainfall and daily temperature, we can establish a base of information on plant growth, pest pressure and crop yield which other potential farmers can use to estimate what quinoa might do on their farms.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The main test plot will be a level field of Pawling silt loam at 2000 feet which was planted to buckwheat last season. Before the ground is worked in April, soil samples will be taken to give a reading of the soil nutrients and the physical and biological properties of the soil. No soil amendments or irrigation will be applied so that we get a baseline reading of how well quinoa grows in our conditions. Since we farm organically, the ground will be prepared by the stale seedbed technique tilling under weeds as they emerge with particular attention to lambsquarter (Chenopodium album), a close relative of quinoa. The varieties tested will be obtained from a number of sources, including Peaceful Valley (CA), Bountiful Gardens (CA), and Wild Garden Seeds (OR).

    We will run germination tests on each variety prior to planting and adjust planting rates if indicated. We hope to plant in the first week of May but the fields must be dry enough to work. Each variety will be planted by 2 different methods, broadcast with a cyclone seeder and drilled with a wheel planter to give us an idea which method gives better plant growth or more weed suppression. The seeding rate for the row planter will be 8 seeds per foot to allow thinning to a final 4 plants per foot (as recommended by Susan Ward of Colorado State University who was the technical advisor on the 2002 trial of quinoa in Maine). Seeding rate for the broadcast seeder will be set to achieve at least 130,000 plants/acre (Alternative Field Crop Manual). A split-plot design will be used with two replications.

    Each variety will be planted in two adjoining plots, one broadcast and one drilled so that there will be 8 plots at one location in the field and then another set of 8 plots at another location in the field. This will help insure that the results can be judged accurately without being influenced by soil variation. The varieties will be randomly assigned to the plots. Plot size will be 7 x 40 feet to accommodate 6 rows spaced at 14’’ in the drilled plots. Harvesting the quinoa will be accomplished with a portable reaper/binder and thresher supplied by Elizabeth Dyck, of the Organic Growers’ Research and Information-Sharing Network (OGRIN), who will also make available a portable seed cleaner.

    Our second plot will be an acre of silt loam on a higher portion of the farm. This field was also in buckwheat last season. After a soil sample is taken, the field will be prepared in an identical fashion without using any chemical weed control or soil amendments. This plot will be planted with a tractor-pulled seed drill to gain experience in the mechanics of farm-scale seed handling for quinoa. Only a single variety of seed will be planted. This plot will be harvested at the end of the season using a standard combine so that we can assess the ease with which quinoa could be integrated into a normal farming operation. All of the data we gain from small plots will be only of academic interest if we don’t try and see how well common farm equipment can handle this new crop.

    To add to our knowledge of quinoa varieties, we will visit the OGRIN research farm to help Dr. Dyck evaluate quinoa accessions obtained from the National Plant Germplasm System that she will have established in a small-plot observational trial. 

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.