Quinoa – An Ancient grain on the prairies

Photo Courtesy of NorQuin. NorQuin variety NQRed a Red quinoa growing in Saskatchewan.


Quinoa, pronounced keen-wa, is an ancient grain originating in South America that is flourishing in its new home in Western Canada. Quinoa is classed as a pseudo cereal, a broad leaf plant with a grain more like a cereal. Quinoa is a superfood, it is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids, while also being gluten free.

Photo Courtesy of NorQuin.
NorQuin variety trial in Manitoba used to select varieties suited for Western Canada.

At NorQuin we specialize in growing quinoa locally. We contract acres across Western Canada, our varieties are suitable for all growing areas from the irrigated acres of South Alberta, up to the Peace, throughout Saskatchewan and into Eastern Manitoba.

Quinoa grows well on almost all soil types as long as there is good drainage. NorQuin has specifically developed varieties that are well adapted for the prairie climate, with a season length of 95-110 days depending on variety, good early and late season frost tolerance, and good drought tolerance. No specialist equipment is needed to grow quinoa.

NorQuin operates a breeding research centre in Saskatoon and runs extensive yield and agronomy trials across Western Canada. We have also partnered with government and private researchers to further the agronomic knowledge on quinoa. We offer boots on the ground agronomy support to our growers to assist with in season scouting as well as access to our years of agronomic information to help achieve the highest yields and best quality possible.

The quinoa is cleaned and processed in Saskatchewan with final packing and distribution from our facility in Saskatoon. From here our products go out to small and medium retail businesses as well as big box stores and supermarkets. Our main markets are in North America but our quinoa can also be found on shelves in Europe and Asia. We also sell into the ingredient markets in the form of flour, flakes and puffs. Demand has been very good, and we expect it to flourish with the growing interest in plant-based protein and gluten free products.

Have you heard the myth that quinoa cannot be grown south of Highway 16. This came from the early years of production when crops below the highway struggled in some years, it was attributed to heat blast, and the highway rule began. As part of an extensive insect research study in the mid-2010s to understand quinoa pests and their lifecycle a new pest of quinoa was discovered, the Goosefoot Groundling Moth. It was in fact the larvae of this moth feeding on the immature seed head that was the problem and not heat blast. A good understanding of the pest and its lifecycle has been established and the NorQuin agronomy team are now able to help growers scout for the pest and recommend treatment options if found. Thanks to this work, growing quinoa south of Highway 16 is a successful and profitable option for growers. 

The future is looking very strong for NorQuin and quinoa. In spring 2022 we were acquired by Above Food corp., and now form part of their specialty ingredients division which specializes in plant-based protein ingredients. Due to great sales of our bagged quinoa as well as the introduction of new products such as quick cook quinoa and quinoa flour, NorQuin is looking to increase production and expand our growing acres for the coming season.

Contracts are now open for 2023 production with guaranteed pricing and an act of God clause.

If you would like to know more about growing quinoa or the contracts that NorQuin offers you can contact the Farm Service team at 639-939-7171 or visit quinoa.com for more information and complete the grower form.

Liam O’Halloran, Director of Agronomy, NorQuin