Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Kiwi’s quinoa dream now a reality

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A liking for a particular food on a foreign trip is paying dividends for Dan and Jacqui Cottrell and providing extra income for their Taihape farm. They told Andrew Stewart how they discovered quinoa and set about growing it in the central North Island.
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Dan and Jacqui Cottrell didn’t realise an overseas adventure would change their lives forever. 

The year was 2012 and the couple were making the most of their South American odyssey when they had an epiphany in Peru. 

They had been eating a lot of quinoa, of which 80% of the global supply is grown in Peru, on their trip. 

The rugged, stunning and slightly chilly landscape reminded Dan of the family farm near Taihape and suddenly he realised they might be onto something. 

What if they could grow quinoa on the family farm, which was very similar in many respects to the landscape of Peru? 

And so it was that a holiday on the other side of the Pacific Ocean kicked off an adventure producing one of the world’s true super foods back home on the ranch in New Zealand. 

Seven years on and through a ton of research, toil and investment the Cottrells are well on their way to realising their dream.

Dan’s the fourth generation of his family to run the farm near Moawhango though he became a rural banker after studying at Lincoln University. Jacqui studied agricultural science at Melbourne University before moving to NZ to work for a fertiliser company focusing on biological agriculture in 2008. The couple met in Matamata.

In 2011 they decided to go travelling and set off on the big OE to explore the world,

After the light-bulb moment in Peru the couple knew they had a lot of work to do before they could make it a reality. 

They moved to Australia to live and work and really applied themselves to the viability of growing quinoa in NZ. 

The process was not an easy one. It involved deciding which variety of quinoa would be commercially viable and accessible. Once they decided that they had to determine how the plant would handle the growing conditions in Taihape. 

And finally, once the theoretical research was done it was time to put their plan into practice. 

Dan’s father Mark agreed to try a test plot on the farm in 2014 though Dan and Jacqui were still in Australia. The trial included five varieties of quinoa and the clear winner was the variety they now use. This generosity and willingness to help was not lost on the couple and they are very thankful for the support of both Dan’s parents. Dan’s sister Georgia has also been instrumental in the marketing and development of their quinoa.

The initial results were promising enough to give them the confidence they needed to move back to the farm in 2015 and set about establishing their dream.

Though quinoa was the big picture both Dan and Jacqui are also passionate about sheep and beef farming. The 500 hectare effective farm used to be part of the huge Taihape landholding of Oruamatua. These days the farm runs 3600 breeding ewes, 1000 hoggets and 140 breeding cows in conjunction with a 100 hectare lease. Some younger cattle are wintered as the seasons permit and the aim is to increase cow numbers to about 160. The farm is reasonably high in elevation, rising from 700 metres to 900 metres above sea level. There are about 70 hectares of cultivatable land with rich, volcanic ash soils. 

It was those soils they felt would be the key to success in growing quinoa. Dan had been to Europe to visit quinoa growers and a plant breeder. Because so much of the world’s quinoa is grown in South America they are naturally very protective of their seeds and intellectual property. 

Quinoa is one of the healthiest and most nutritious foods on the planet. 

It might improve blood-sugar and cholesterol levels and even aid weight loss. 

Quinoa is one of the world’s most popular health foods and is gluten-free, high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain sufficient amounts of all nine essential amino acids. 

It is also high in fibre, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants. 

Even though technically not a cereal grain it still counts as a whole-grain food. 

In Amereica National Aeronautical and Space Administration scientists have been looking at it as a suitable crop to be grown in outer space, mostly based on its high nutrient content, ease of use and simplicity of growing. The United Nations declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa because of its high nutrient value and potential to contribute to food security worldwide.

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