Quinoa fields are rare in the U.S., but most of the demand for the South American grain is from the U.S.
According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center at Iowa State, quinoa consumption has risen dramatically. In 2007, the U.S. imported 7 million pounds. In 2013, it reached nearly 70 million pounds.
For 50 years, Nash Huber has grown crops from cabbage to wheat, and he recently finished quinoa harvest.
With a growing demand for the grain, a small number of U.S. farmers are testing the crop.
“We’re still in the early stages,” said Huber.
More than 90 percent of the quinoa supply comes from Peru and Bolivia, but Americans consume more than half of the global production of the edible seeds, known for nutritional value.
“It’s got all the amino acids humans need, so it’s a complete protein, and that’s really hard to find on grain crops,” said Julianne Kellogg of Washington State University.
It’s also been a challenge finding the right way to grow it in the U.S. Washington state University researchers are testing varieties that can withstand heat along with late summer rains without sprouting.
“It’ll take some new variety development that works for the different regions,” said Kellogg.
While quinoa has been a boon for the economies of Peru and Bolivia, generating $111 million in 2012, recent over production has caused prices to drop, straining farmers, especially small ones.
“The lower quinoa prices have affected them because it takes a lot of money to cultivate quinoa, more than other crops,” said Luz Gomez of Peru’s National Agrarian University.
American consumers are looking for foods grown closer to where they live, but quinoa is going beyond the grain aisle: chocolates and hair care products to name a couple.
“If we break even or make a little bit of money, that’ll be good because I learned a few things here,” said Huber.