Quinoa: Can we grow it in Wyoming?
By: Anowar Islam, UW Extension Agroecologist
Sometime ago, I reported at UW’s Specialty Crop Workshop in Wheatland about quinoa. In recent years, especially in southeast Wyoming, there is an increasing interest to learn about and grow a quinoa crop.
What is quinoa?
Quinoa is a specialty crop. It is increasingly popular in the United States, Europe, China and Japan. Quinoa was first domesticated by the Andean peoples around 3,000 years ago and was important to the diet of pre-Columbian Andean civilizations because of its nutritional value. It is still produced there on land is prone to drought and soils are low in fertility. This makes quinoa a potential crop for Wyoming’s environments.
Quinoa is considered a super-food. It has high protein content – ranging from 14 to 18 percent, essential amino acids such as lysine and good quantities of dietary fiber, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. It is a good source of calcium, which is useful and important for vegetarians and those who are sensitive to lactose or are lactose-intolerant. Quinoa is easy to digest because it is gluten-free.
Also, the leaves of the plant are frequently eaten as a leafy green vegetable just like as spinach. Quinoa leaves contain seven times more iron than spinach and provide six grams of protein per 140 gram serving size. These leaves are a good addition to any diet.
Also, the whole plant is used as green forage, and harvest residue is used to feed cattle, sheep, pigs, horses and poultry.
After publishing my report on quinoa, I received many calls about quinoa. Some of the questions I have received included can we grow quinoa in Wyoming? Are seeds available? How much seeds cost? What is the right planting time? How much seed do we need to plant? I was unable to answer all questions. However, I will initiate studies in Wyoming conditions and try to convey results as soon as I obtain some.
The good news is that I was able to plant and grow quinoa last year in Wyoming. I planted six varieties of quinoa at three locations in Wyoming – Laramie, Lingle and Wheatland. Planting was done at different times – in May, early June and late June – with different nitrogen rates. We saw clear differences in growth and yield among planting times and fertilizers.
Quinoa seems to be a promising crop in Wyoming. The major challenges, however, are weed control and harvesting procedures. These are still being conducted manually.
Seed availability and the high price of seeds are also concerns.
Based on last year’s experience, I plan to continue studies over the next two years, aiming to develop better production systems and management techniques. I will keep you updated with the latest results in coming days and years.
Anowar Islam is an associate professor and the University of Wyoming Extension Forage Agroecologist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or firstname.lastname@example.org.