TRI-COUNTY REGION – Such unusual animal breeds such as yaks, camels, llamas and alpacas have made themselves at home in Ouray County’s agricultural industry.
Now, preliminary studies indicate that quinoa, an alternative grain from Peru, could show promise as a high altitude crop for both Ouray and San Miguel counties.
Last spring, an informal group of growers tried growing quinoa (KEEN-wa) at various locations in Ouray, Montrose and San Miguel counties. Results confirm that quinoa does best at altitudes between 7,000 and 9,000 feet. At 6,800 ft., the Ouray County growers quinoa did fairly well, although a severe hot spell in July took its toll.
Quinoa prefers cool temperatures, and becomes stressed when the mercury approaches 90 degrees.
In Montrose County, at about 5,500 ft., the higher daytime temperatures resulted in plants growing only about one foot tall.
At the San Miguel County growing site – Tomten Farms, which sits at 9,000 feet in elevation – quinoa did very well indeed.
Strengthening agriculture emerged as one of Ouray County’s top five strategies during the recent “Bottom Up” economic development forums. Forum participants agreed that diversification of the economy requires diversifying the county’s traditional industries, and the report they sent to Governor Hickenlooper reflected that.
Although recent budget cuts at the Colorado State University Extension Service have set back plans for a formal field trial, Ouray County growers can obtain “Colorado Black” quinoa seed from Park Nursery in Ridgway and try it out for themselves.
Quinoa has been grown commercially in Colorado’s San Luis Valley for twenty years or more. In addition to its nutritious seeds, Quinoa has a showy head like amaranth and can be grown as an ornamental plant.
If you would like to try growing quinoa this year and report your results, please contact Jane Bennett at 970/626-5075 for more information.