By Rebecca E. Phillips, University Communications
SEATTLE, Wash. – Efforts to establish a quinoa production center in the Pacific Northwest will be presented by crop breeding expert Kevin Murphy at the Washington State University Innovators lecture and lunch 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Thursday, April 24, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, 721 Pine St., Seattle. Register at http://bit.ly/1dLtwOL.
Quinoa has captivated the world with its powerful package of proteins and phytonutrients and its gluten-free status. WSU’s efforts in quinoa production and organic crops are geared toward spurring local agricultural economies.
“Washington is fortunate to have a climate conducive to the production of the highest quality quinoa, but the industry is still in its infancy,” says Murphy, assistant professor in WSU crop and soil sciences who is focusing on quinoa and alternative crops for organic farmers.
Adapting crop to all regions
WSU is leading research into the seed’s moxie as a healthy food source, an ally in fighting world hunger and a potentially profitable crop for growers in the Pacific Northwest.
Funded by a $1.6 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture – plus grants from Organic Farming Research Foundation, Seed Matters/Clif Bar Family Foundation and the WSU BIOAg program – Murphy and his team are testing more than 1,000 quinoa varieties under a number of Washington farming systems and bioregions.
Collaborating with local growers who plant quinoa test plots, he has demonstrated that the climate and soils of the state are well suited to quinoa cultivation.
The goal of the program is to develop quinoa varieties adaptable for all regions. For example, trials in western Washington show the need for plants resistant to downy mildew and pre-harvest sprouting. In the central Columbia Basin, heat tolerance is important. On the eastern Palouse, Murphy’s team is searching for varieties that thrive without irrigation.
Establishing premier production area
A significant challenge in developing quinoa’s full economic potential in the Pacific Northwest is lack of a processing center. Quinoa is coated with a bitter soapy substance, called saponin, that is inedible and mildly toxic but can be removed during processing.
In an effort to combine research and education, Murphy is looking to establish a prototype processing facility on WSU’s organic teaching farm in Pullman. The “farm-to-fork” facility would include a food lab where students and faculty from WSU’s food science program could develop new quinoa-based recipes and products.
Once this critical link in the quinoa production chain has been established, Murphy says the research program “will have an immediate positive impact on current and future quinoa farmers of Washington state. We are well placed to establish the Pacific Northwest as the premier quinoa production region in the U.S.”
Find a link to a video of Murphy talking about Northwest quinoa at http://research.wsu.edu/Innovators/feature.castle