Quinoa Popularity Growing- California Farmers Next Kale?

Geoffrey Mohan reported on the front page of today’s Los Angeles Times that, “Bryce Lundberg is elated, which is saying a lot for a California farmer these days.

“‘Hop on in,’ he says, wading into eight acres of ragged stalks, their seed tassels turning russet in the desert sun.”

Today’s article explained that, “Lundberg, 54, soon is chest-high in quinoa, a crop that is thriving in an unexpected place: on a patch of mediocre soil that lies below sea level in the scorching-hot Imperial Valley, more than 4,500 miles removed and some 10,000 feet down in elevation from its native range in South America’s Andes Mountains.

If the harvest proves profitable here, California could dominate yet another niche crop, as the grain-like seed graduates from health-craze fad to a popular ingredient in energy bars, cereals and even drinks. Acreage dedicated to quinoa may reach into the thousands in the next two years in California, a state that already is a hub for quinoa imported from South America. That’s about where kale was in 2007 before it took off.”

Mr. Mohan noted that, “With a reputation for ruin and not much of a market, quinoa was a miracle food in need of a miracle until the mid-2000s, when food shows, social media and Oprah’s diets pushed it into the mainstream.

“That’s when California transplant Sergio Nuñez de Arco became the king of quinoa. A former development worker at the United Nations, Nuñez de Arco returned to Bolivia, where a few exporters were packaging quinoa in retail-sized bags under their own labels. Nuñez de Arco had more ambitious plans. He would pool the crops of subsistence farmers and create a reliable supply chain for big bulk shipments of quinoa, stretching from the Andes to California and beyond.”

The article added that, “In 2005, he sold only $25,000 worth of quinoa through his company, Andean Naturals. Today, the Yuba City importer sells $26 million from its facilities in Bolivia and about $40 million from other facilities, and recently partnered with agro-industrial giant ADM.

“‘That’s how you ended up seeing it in Trader Joe’s, Costco,’ he said. ‘Now, it’s in Quaker bars and Kellogg Special-K cereals.'”

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