Quinoa a potential cereal alternative crop for salt soils

Quinoa is an innovative and an emerging crop of Pakistan. Its scientific name is Chenopodium quinoa. It belongs to family Amaranthaceae sub family Chenopodiaceae.

Quinoa a potential cereal alternative crop for salt soils

Plant height is about 1-2 meter. It is originated in the Andean region of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Chile and was domesticated 3,000 to 4,000, years ago, for human consumption. It is considered as a super food due to its energetic nutritional profile.

If we look at its nutritional composition, it contains 64% carbohydrate  and 13% water. The most important feature of this crop is that it is a halophyte and easily grow in saline soil. As we know 1/3rd of our land is salt affected so it can be very important for Pakistan.

Luckily this crop acclimatizes to conditions of Pakistan and its growing season is oct-march. Since its introduction, its production is increasing day by day. Plant can grow at relative humidity from 44 to 88 percent and soil ph ranges from 6 to 8.5.

It can tolerate temperature ranges from -4 to 380C. The optimum temperature for it is 12 to 20c. MNS- University of Agriculture Multan cultivated Quinoa at its Jalalpur Pirwala research farm , and this crop is successfully survived and produces a good yield at soil Ec 43 ds m-1 and irrigation water Ec 12 ds m-1.

Its production is 2.5 ton per hectare and more than 8 ton of biological mass used as a fodder, biofuel and vegetable. From a single panicle, we can get 200 grams of seed so it could become a highly valuable crop in Pakistan as it generates more profit than any other cash crop. It has over 120 color varieties, but red, white and black are more common. Apart from colour all varieties are very similar and can be used in the same recipes.

It has many health benefits. Its grain can be grounded to make floor. Grains used for making food, biscuit, bread, sauces, pasta, cakes and juices. In European countries, it is also popped just like popcorn. Saponins present in plant is used for making detergent, shampoo, beer, toothpaste pesticides and antibiotics.

It can also be used in making different kinds of salads and local sweet dishes like halva and kheer as a substitute of wheat and rice. It is also called as pseudo cereal because it is used as alternate of cereal and replace wheat as well as rice. It is also gluten free so can be a substitute of wheat. It is also useful during pregnancy. Due to its more industrial status it is need of the hour to increase its cultivation for economic stability of country.

Production Technology

  • Seed Preparation and Germination

Depending on the variety, optimal growing conditions are in cool climates with temperatures that vary between −4 °C (25 °F) during the night to near 35 °C (95 °F) during the day. Quinoa prefers cool soil conditions (45° to 50°F).

Germination occurs within 24 hours after planting when adequate moisture is present, and seedlings emerge in three to five days. Quinoa seeds, like those of spinach, may not germinate if conditions are warm and may need to be refrigerated for a week (vernalized) to obtain adequate germination.

  • Cultural Practices                                                          

Quinoa requires a level, well-drained seedbed in order to avoid waterlogging. Its growing season is oct-march. Seeds should be planted at a depth of 1/2 to 1 in. depending on soil type and available soil moisture. Small size of the seed makes it susceptible to both dehydration and waterlogging when planted too shallow, or deep, respectively.

Row width can vary, but rows should be spaced by a minimum of 14 in. Stands of 130,000 plants/acre appear to be optimal for growing conditions. A stand of this density would require 1/2 to 3/4 lb of seed acre. Seeding rates are usually doubled when growing conditions are not optimal. Better stands are obtained when seed is planted in a moist soil, instead of irrigating after planting prior to emergence.

  • Fertility Requirements

Quinoa responds well to nitrogen fertilizer. Maximum yields are possible when 70-80 kg N/acre are available. Yields declined when greater levels of available nitrogen were present due to a slower maturity and more intense lodging.

  • Water Requirements

Only need 3 to 4 irrigation. This crop is somewhat drought tolerant with a water requirement of 10 to 15 in. per year (precipitation and irrigation combined on sandy-loam or loamy-sand soils). L Lower amounts of water reduced plant height by 50% with only an 18% reduction in yield.

Plants should not be irrigated until the two- or three-leaf stage. Excessive irrigation after stand establishment usually produces tall, lanky plants with no yield improvement. Damping off and severe stunting of plants will occur with excessive irrigation in the seedling stages.

  • Weed control

Weed control in quinoa fields is difficult since plants grow slowly during the first two weeks after emergence. Pigweed (Chenopodium album) and karund (Chenopodium muralae) are the most common weeds. Wild mustard and sunflower can be a problem since it is not possible to separate them from quinoa seed.

Pigweed emerges too late in the growing season to depend on cultivation for weed control. Early planting may be the most effective means to control pigweed since the quinoa will have a good start in growth before the pigweed emerges.

  • Harvesting

Plants have a sorghum-like seed head at maturity. Harvest usually begins when the seed can barely be dented with a fingernail and plants have dried, turned a pale yellow or red color, and leaves have dropped. The seed should thresh easily by hand at this time. Field dry down is usually acceptable and plants are harvested easily with a combine. A sorghum header attachment is recommended for quinoa, although platform headers can usually be used as well, without a large crop loss.

Cylinder speed and air flow of combines are usually greatly reduced. Smaller screens are used than with cereal grains due to the small size and lighter weight of quinoa seed. A fanning mill and gravity separator is usually necessary to remove trash from the seed after combining. Grain must be dry before storage. Quinoa stover contains little fiber and subsequently provides little crop residue. Rain during harvest will cause problems since mature seed will germinate within 24 hours after exposure to moisture.

  • Drying and Storage

The seed must remain dry during storage. Prior to using quinoa in food processing, the saponins in the pericarp are removed by soaking them in water or by mechanical methods, such as with a rice polisher or a machine similar to those used to remove wheat bran.

  •  Yield Potential

The yield per acre is 800 kilograms.

Glimpses of Quinoa at University of Agriculture Multan Research Farm Jalalpur Peerwala

By Nabeel Ahmad Ikram

Nabeel Ahmad Ikram Lecturer, Department of Agronomy MNS-University of Agriculture, Multan.