PULLMAN, Wash. – Scientists at Washington State University just completed four years determining the best varieties of organic quinoa for Pacific Northwest farmers to grow. A new grant will help researchers assess crop yields, prices and more to help growers turn a profit.
“Around 80 percent of the first varieties we tried failed – which is kind of our job,” said Kevin Murphy, WSU assistant professor and breeder of barley and alternative crops. “We try as many options as we can and if something fails, it’s a learning experience that farmers hopefully don’t have to experience themselves.”
Murphy and several colleagues recently received a nearly $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative for another four years of research on quinoa, an increasingly popular, nutritious seed crop native to South America.
It contains all the amino acids needed by humans, making it the only seed crop that’s also a complete protein. The WSU program is helping grow this super-food in developing countries such as Rwanda and Malawi.
“It’s healthy and nutritious and also tasty, so it’s great for sellers and growers,” Murphy said.
The researchers tested varieties for taste and what they can be used for, as well as heat tolerance, mildew resistance and other traits, he said.
The new grant will support an economist to help farmers determine what crop yields and prices they will need and other economic impacts of the crop.
It also supports partnering researchers in Minnesota and Maryland as quinoa growth expands eastward. The scientists are developing new varieties that incorporate multiple traits farmers can use in different regions of the country.
“How quinoa grows in eastern Washington is much different than what grows in western Washington or Utah or California,” Murphy said. “We’re figuring out the best times to plant, how to plant, how it grows in different soils. It’s a lot of work.
Although the grant addresses organically grown quinoa, at WSU the research program involves both organic and non-organic farming.