Thursday, September 10, 2015

Quinoa to be Grown AND Processed in Western Australia

A $500,000 grant from Coles has provided the impetus for the first quinoa processing plant to be built in WA.  This is a big step for local food processing in Australia where so much has been written about the loss of food manufacture in Australia.

Australian Grown Superfoods, involving Highbury farmer Ashley Wiese, Dumbleyung farmer Megan Gooding and agronomist Garren Knell, received news it had secured the Coles Nurture Fund grant late last week

Mr Wiese said the grant money was the missing link in moves to get quinoa onto Australian supermarket shelves, although I do not agree necessarily with the statement, as my observation is that there is quinoa already present in reasonable quantities in major supermarkets [including Coles]. 

He said - "The total investment in the plant will be $1.5 million, so this grant will make up a significant portion of this and will help us reduce the risk," he said.  "It has given us confidence that we are doing the right thing and are on the right track.  "We are getting the production, we know the market is there, it has just been the processing part of the equation holding us back.  "The only alternative to process quinoa without a domestic plant was to send it overseas, so we would have had to ship it out of the country to process it and then ship it back.  "With the fall in the Australian dollar that would have been a very expensive exercise. Plus, in conversations we have had with our customers, they want traceability of the product and we were nervous we could lose that if the product had to be shipped overseas."

Mr Wiese said there would still be a cautious approach to increasing production of quinoa.
quinoa growing at altitude in S America

quinoa grain colour varies with different varieties

This year's crop totals 500 hectares and should produce 300 to 400 tonnes.  "We will increase production slowly," he said.  "Initially we will target the domestic market and hope to replace some of the Peruvian conventional product in the market now.  "We are also looking at exporting to Asia, but that will take a few years.  "We are conscious of taking it slow and making sure the demand is there before we increase production.  "Even though the grant came with no strings attached we are talking to Coles and this grant has provided us with a foot in the door with them and conversations are happening which is a great thing for us.  "We are keen to supply Coles and that is where we will start and at this stage we won't look to expand too far ahead of that.  "If we are going to get into the export market we will have to lift supply."

Mr Wiese said there has already been a large amount of planning done on the plant and it could be built and ready for processing as early as December this year.  "Megan's family has built a pilot plant in Narrogin and that has worked really well and gave us the confidence we could build a larger scale plant," he said.  "The plant will be built on my property and the sheds are going up now and most of the machinery is built so it will happen quite quickly."

Coles managing director John Durkan said the project was exactly the type of innovative business that the Coles Nurture Fund had been set up to support  "We chose it to receive one of the first grants because it is innovative and providing a local product that is currently imported into Australia and will be available in WA," Mr Durkan said.

Coles launched Coles Nurture Fund in April, announcing it would provide $50 million in grants and interest free loans over five years to businesses in the food and grocery sector so they could grow and innovate.

Quinoa production is expanding modestly around Australia and expanding into non traditional areas including the tropics and sub tropics, even with interest in the NT and Queensland, with continuing interest in the broad north Australia area, where production may be an irrigated or partially irrigated crop in the dry season, whereas so far most has been produced in temperate areas.  There is a range of varieties available, including those with different grain colours, and some of these seem to have potential for north Australia.

Local market demand is increasing, but one has to wonder if it will be a short lived curiosity, only to be cast aside as fashion changes, or if some detrimental issue arises with the product and will it continue to displace sales of other food products.

There is no doubt that post production aspects of the whole production chain for many agricultural products is a stumbling block to wider use and potential for export.  It is much easier to increase in paddock production than to commit $$ to post growing processing or treatment, yet that is often where the bottleneck is!

Lets hope it progresses well. 

partially sourced from online edition of Qld Country Life 10/915

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