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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory » Research » Research Project #433964

Research Project: Breeding and Agronomy of Quinoa for Organic Farming Systems

Location: Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory

Project Number: 8042-21660-005-047-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Oct 1, 2017
End Date: Jul 31, 2021

The long-term goals of this multi-region, integrative project are to: 1) breed high-yielding, nutritious quinoa varieties adapted to abiotic and biotic stresses in organic systems through a) the Washington State University (WSU) quinoa breeding program and b) a cohesive variety testing program in Washington, Utah, Minnesota, and Maryland; 2) evaluate and develop best management practices to optimize organic quinoa production systems across a wide range of environments; 3) understand the economics of domestic organic quinoa production, processing and marketing, and; 4) disseminate information to target diverse audiences using a range of extension outreach methodology. The primary stakeholders of this project include organic farmers, and quinoa distributors, wholesalers, and retailers. Critical needs described by organic farmers, through a variety of workshops, field days, emails, phone calls, and one survey, include: 1) the availability of seed of high yielding, high quality varieties adapted to their region; 2) the identification of best management practices for quinoa production, with particular emphasis on all facets of agronomy (fertility, seeding rate, planting date, etc.), rotation, intercropping, weed control, successful production in heat and drought stressed environments, disease and insect pest identification and biological and/or organic control methods; and 3) the development of relationships between farmers and different seed cleaning, saponin removal, and marketing avenues. The WSU lead scientist on the project has led the Quinoa Breeding Program since 2010, when 44 varieties of quinoa were grown in three certified organic locations in Washington State (Port Townsend, Olympia and Pullman). These varieties were sourced through the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) ( and represented a broad diversity of regions and environmental conditions.

1) Evaluate and select quinoa varieties and breeding lines in organic systems for critical traits of interest. Three multi-year and multi-state experiments will be conducted to help achieve the overall goals of Objective 2: 1) multi-region, certified organic quinoa variety trials; 2) quinoa breeding, selection and varietal release within, and for, organic systems; and 3) genetic characterization of quinoa germplasm and genome wide association study (GWAS) of genes controlling mildew resistance. 2) Develop best management practices for organic quinoa production in diverse environments in the U.S. Each region target in this project present distinct agronomic challenges, including considerable differences in annual precipitation amount and timing; soil type, fertility and biology; dominant existing cropping systems; environmental stresses; landscape and climate. Therefore, the agronomic trials in this objective have been tailored specifically to address questions in each target environment. They are not intended to be universally applicable, however, ARS does anticipate that the knowledge gained from these regional experiments will help guide organic quinoa production in other regions of the U.S. as well. 3) Evaluate diverse quinoa genotypes for mycorrhizal and rhizosphere microbial associations. Chenopodium is reported as a non-mycorrhizal crop in most studies assaying endosymbiotic infection occurrence. A wide survey of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) compatibility among Chenopodium quinoa populations has not been thoroughly conducted to date. Among the angiosperm Chenopodiaceae and Cruciferae have a predominantly non-mycorrhizal habit, but numerous species among these families have be reported to harbor symbiotic relationships with AMF including; Atriplrs cotzescetrs (Pursh.) Nutt, (Williams et al. 1974), Beta vulgaris (L. Ross and Harper 1973), Chenopodium album (Kruckelmann 1975, Saif and Iffat 1976), Chenopodium. botrys (L. Saif and Iffat 1976). Using molecular techniques ARS will screen a range of Chenopodium quinoa for mycorrhizal association targeting the ITS rRNA gene fragment, elongation factor eF-1-alpha and a number of symbiosis specific genes. Using a metagenomic approach ARS will screen a range of Chenopodium quinoa for root associated beneficial bacteria specifically targeting root-associated nitrogen fixing diazotrophs, and phosphorous solubilizing functions. 4) Evaluate processing and end-use quality traits and nutritional value of quinoa varieties and breeding lines the WSU co-I will coordinate this component of the project, including mineral concentration, amino acid profiles, fiber content, bioactive compounds and noodle and bread quality potential. Critical information gaps are impeding the growth of U.S. quinoa markets at a time when consumers are increasingly seeking out new, healthy, and gluten-free products. In order to enhance the markets for U.S.-grown quinoa, ARS proposes to assess processing challenges, which impede the utilization of quinoa in food products and assess key quinoa processing characteristics, and develop model extruded food products based on these characteristics to guide market expansion.