Starting with small trials, Moawhango farmers Dan and Jacqui Cottrell have grown their quinoa production to 30ha and a 70-tonne harvest last year.

The two first grew 3ha of the South American "superfood" grain on the Cottrell family farm, Oruamatua, in 2016. It's at Moawhango, east of Taihape, and has a climate similar to the Andes where the couple had seen quinoa growing during their travels.

In October their Kiwi Quinoa brand won the Food Safety Primary Sector Products Award in the Massey New Zealand Food Awards.

"We are pretty stoked about that," Dan Cottrell said.

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Jacqui Cottrell, an expert in soil and crop science, has upskilled in nutrition and been nominated as a Westpac rural woman of influence. She spoke on a panel at this year's AgriFood Week in March, and their enterprise was featured on Country Calendar in April.

There has been a lot of learning since 2016, Cottrell said.

Last year they tried a new variety of quinoa, obtained from European plant breeders. It's taller and stronger than the first variety, getting its head above weeds and staying upright rather than falling over.

It yielded three tonnes a hectare - previous yields had been two tonnes a hectare or less.

In January the Cottrells contracted Manawatū-based Belinda Bonnor to do their marketing. She helped get their Kiwi Quinoa into 60 stores - mainly New World and Pak'nSave supermarkets.

Kiwi Quinoa from Moawhango is sold in 60 stores. Photo / Supplied
Kiwi Quinoa from Moawhango is sold in 60 stores. Photo / Supplied

Getting a product into supermarkets, keeping it there and servicing them takes lots of work. Some stores have had demonstrators and tastings.

This year the Cottrells also exported a small amount of quinoa to Japan.

"It's modest, but it might be the start of something pretty exciting."

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Their quinoa grains are cleaned at Valhalla Seeds, in Palmerston North, and new technology has been added for that.

The Cottrells have refined their growing and integrate it with grazing sheep and cattle on the 600ha farm. Every three years the flatter paddocks are sown to quinoa, with Dan's father doing most of the tractor work.

In other years the paddocks have a short-term pasture, of chicory or legumes. Additives give the quinoa all the nutrients it needs, and the Cottrells are "winding that dial back" every year.

"We are using about 15 per cent of what is used on quinoa in Europe, because we have got great soil microbial from pasture with animals."

Their healthy plants don't need to be sprayed to kill insect pests and weeds.

They have invested in a windrower, imported from Australia. It mows the plants while they are still green but nearly ripe. They lie on the ground and dry, hopefully in fine weather, until harvest.

Quinoa matures from green to gold. Photo / Supplied
Quinoa matures from green to gold. Photo / Supplied

The Cottrell farm has a maximum of 30ha where quinoa can be grown, and they lease extra land from neighbours around Moawhango.

Other farmers have offered to grow for them. It's a bit early for that, Cottrell said. But he can see a time when he will employ someone for sheep and beef work, leaving him two days a week to concentrate on quinoa.

The pair are no longer the only quinoa growers in New Zealand. Coincidentally, Dan went to school in Taihape with Kate Dunlop of The New Zealand Quinoa Co. She and her husband Hamish grow quinoa near Hāwera.

They were on a parallel path of development to the Cottrells, but neither couple knew that. The Dunlops market uncooked quinoa in pouches, and quinoa puffs. And Canterbury Quinoa grows the crop in the South Island.

They're all small businesses, growing perhaps 100 tonnes of the 400 tonnes of quinoa New Zealanders eat every year. Some day they may form an association.

Dan and Jacqui Cottrell are growing quinoa, a South American grain, on their Moawhango farm. Photo / Supplied
Dan and Jacqui Cottrell are growing quinoa, a South American grain, on their Moawhango farm. Photo / Supplied

In the meantime the Cottrells plan to continue a sustainable expansion - helped by region organisations like FoodHQ and Plant & Food Research.

"It's a great little food scene here. There's a lot to be really excited about," Cottrell said.