Home' Greymouth Star : June 14th 2017 Contents Greymouth Star
an Cottrell is getting a kick
out of growing an Andean
superfood in Taihape.
He and wife Jacqui are
the pioneers of growing
the ancient seed quinoa favoured for its
protein-packed power punch in the heart
of rural New Zealand.
“It’s pretty exciting doing something
new, I’m really getting a kick out of what
started as an experiment. And it’s just great
to see that everyone around us has been so
enthusiastic — the response in the market
has been fantastic,” Dan said.
“ When suppliers learn that they can
get quinoa grown here by a New Zealand
farmer, they think it’s great. We get a lot of
satisfaction from that as well.”
Dan and Jacqui har vested their first
commercial crop of quinoa last year from
a 3ha site planted on Dan’s family’s sheep
and beef farm north-west of Taihape.
“ We sowed our first crop in spring and by
the time it was har vested we pretty much
had a home for it,” Dan said.
The seed was snapped up by Sabato, an
Auckland pur veyor of fine foods.
“They took it all and it’s supplied to the
restaurant trade through them.”
The seed for their new-found business
was planted while Dan and Jacqui were on
their “big OE”, which included travelling
through South America where quinoa
has been a food staple for thousands of
years. They began test trials at the farm in
After years of hard work, Dan says it has
been rewarding to see their quinoa find its
way into some of New Zealand’s leading
lodges, including Huka Lodge, The Farm
at Cape Kidnappers and Blanket Bay.
Their second crop covered 10ha and was
har vested a few weeks ago.
“This next year we are going to do our
own retail packs,” Dan, who has had a
number of enquiries from other boutique
“ We’ve also just fielded a call from
another farmer who said they ’re going
to trial quinoa, so we could have some
Taihape-raised Dan studied agriculture,
then went into rural finance as a graduate.
Jacqui, who hails from Albury in New
South Wales, Australia, also studied
agriculture, then moved into agronomy.
“It helps that Jacqui is an agronomist,
she’s a bit of a guru on plants, health
and soil nutrition so we are a really good
After their OE, Dan and Jacqui moved
to Australia where they kept the quinoa-
growing idea in their back pockets.
“I was sowing broad-acre crops of wheat
and canola in New South Wales and I
spent a lot of time on a tractor,” Dan said.
“That ’s when I really started picking over
He decided to get quinoa seeds sent from
France to the family farm for his dad —
who was “pretty keen to get involved ” — to
The couple moved to the farm in the
spring of 2015 and managed the trial-and-
error phase around daily life on the farm
and raising their son Charlie, two.
“It was all lessons along the way,” Dan
said. “At first we didn’t even know if quinoa
would grow here. We slowly did our
homework, lots of Googling and research. I
ended up travelling to Europe to meet with
a plant breeder and things really took off
from there. He originally sent over samples
of a few different varieties, some worked
and some really didn’t.
“ We also tried planting stuff from the
health food store and that really tanked.
The first trials were completely taken over
by weeds and we ended up abandoning
them. We came to the variety that we are
now using and it clicked, it seems to thrive
in this climate.”
Quinoa is traditionally grown at high
altitudes in South America. But since its
rapid rise in popularity and recognition as
a super food, it is now grown commercially
in about 70 countries, including the USA,
Africa, Ireland, Germany, France, Belgium,
the Netherlands and Spain.
It is also grown in Australia, although it
can struggle in the country’s hotter regions,
“If the temperature gets too hot, the plant
The small seed is credited with being
a complete protein — it has double the
amount of protein found in rice and barley
— a nd includes amino acids, antioxidants,
minerals and omega 3, among other
Although it is often touted as a grain,
the broad-leaf non-legume is wheat- and
gluten-free, and low-GI.
“Nutritionally you can’t argue with its
credentials,” Dan said.
Its status has been recognised by the
United Nations’ Food and Agriculture
Organisation, which officially declared
2013 as ‘ The International Year of Quinoa’.
If you cook it until it is light and fluffy
— which takes 15 minutes — this nutty-
tasting seed can be made into salads and
fritters, added to soups and stir-fries, eaten
as breakfast porridge, and used as a base for
numerous sweet and savoury dishes.
Quinoa is a fast-growing crop, ready to
har vest approximately five months after
planting, but Dan and Jacqui’s variety is
even faster, at about four months.
“ We have an early maturing variety. The
variety used in Europe in a big way takes
longer, about five-and-a-half months. At
the altitude we’re at, it was pushing har vest
out to be too close to autumn, which
means problems with rain. We sow mid-
October and harvest in mid-February when
it’s really hot and dry here, so it works
“ Technically, it’s a broad-leaf weed
and the biggest issue is weeds. We are
farming it organically so there are no
herbicides. You’ve got to do all your work
at the beginning, before you even sow. In
September, we work the ground up to the
seed bed and do what was done in the old
days before herbicides: let a strike of weeds
come away, clear them, then sow. It is quite
a hungry crop, and with this variety you do
need to look after it and fertilise. In terms
of sowing, we just change the settings on
the combine har vester.”
Dan has learnt to be selective with crop
rotation. A brassica forage crop grew an
unmanageable amount of weeds, and he
has found that grass-quinoa-grass is the
“After har vest in February, we re-sow it
into new grass. We have a predominantly
pasture-based system with sheep and
cattle, so the spin-off is we get a new grass
paddock out of it,” he says.
“Once you’ve done the ground work, you
then have the luxury of watching it grow.
It’s a great feeling once it ’s in the ground
because there are a lot of machine hours
getting it to that stage.”
Most Andean varieties of quinoa have
naturally-occurring, bitter-tasting saponins
coating the outside of the seed which are
washed and polished from the seed before
retail. The process involves equipment and
cost, but Dan and Jacqui have bypassed this
issue by growing a saponin-free variety.
“It has benefits in terms of cooking as
it does not go gluggy, compared to some
varieties that have been pre-washed and
polished. It’s a lot better in my opinion and
our lab tests show a higher protein content
of about 2%. Imported grains have been
heat-treated and this has an effect on the
food. Compared to something you have just
sieved off the husk, they are two different
things. And it can be sprouted, which is
what a chef in Ponsonby is doing; you
cannot do that with a heat-treated grain,”
“ We certainly haven’t mastered it — we
are doing a few things differently this year
and that will continue as we go along, but
in two years we’ve made a lot of progress.”
Wednesday, June 14, 2017 - 7
Dan checks for signs of ripening.
Mature plants pre-har vest.
A little experiment with a superfood has turned into a win-win business
for a young farming couple, as JO BATES reports for Newsroom.
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