By Charles Wade-Palmer
Britain’s hippest farmer has revealed how he’s raked in a fortune – by ditching his fields of sugar beet for growing QUINOA.
The supergrain, which is native to South America, was almost unheard of in Britain four years ago, when farmer Stephen Jones decided to ditch his traditional crops and start growing it.
But his gamble paid off – he now own’s Britain’s biggest quinoa farm – and has grown more than eight million servings of the crop, favoured by trendy healthy eaters.
The sixth generation farmer made the brave step away from traditional crops and took a “high risk” gamble on planting South American quinoa with no instruction manual for British soil.
Stephen said: “I read about the health benefits of quinoa and I wanted to see if we could grow it in this country as there were no varieties in the UK.
“It’s very high risk for something without an established program on how to grow it in the UK, no pesticides are allowed to be used which is good for the environment but means there’s no easy fix to problems encountered.
“There’s a lot of demand for British products and a lot of people who like eating it are interested in health as well as sustainability, and we offer both.”
Despite taking a huge gamble on quinoa which Stephen says is certain to pay off over time, he could not have anticipated the extent of the crop’s increasing popularity.
As with all innovators, Stephen suffered several setbacks planting quinoa but finally got lucky with seeds tested in The Netherlands and has now sold eight million portions through cafes and supermarkets.
Since the first successful harvest of quinoa on British soil in 2013, The British Quinoa Company has skyrocketed in demand and has only just started producing enough to match demand.
Stephen said: “I decided to sample varieties for European climates from Wageningen University and Research Centre in The Netherlands and they they worked.
“We’re the first and biggest producers of quinoa in the United Kingdom and probably the second biggest outside the Americas.
“We now have 15 farms around the country harvesting quinoa which is allowing us to meet the demand which we struggled to do when consumption of it got ridiculous.
“I supply a lot of home brand products for the major supermarkets and cafes such as Pret A Manger.
“There are probably one or two people in the country trying to grow it at the moment but the problem they have is getting the varieties that work in their soil.
“The three main different pronunciations I frequently hear when I speak to people about the product are: ‘Keen-wah’, ‘Quin-o-wah’ and even ‘kin-ola’ which sounds like a granola- quinoa hybrid, which coincidentally we do sell.
“I’ve always favoured ‘Quin-o-wah’ which as far as I’m concerned is the actual way to say it.
“Initially we couldn’t keep up with demand. In 2013 we sold 30 tons, 2014, 80 tons and in 2015 we sold 600 tons.
“Whenever I go into Pret and see people buying our product it’s generally those into healthy eating which has been a younger demographic on whole but now the older generation is picking up on it.
“People used to ask if it’s just a fad but if you look at Google trends you’ll see its growth into the search engine has been very steady and consistent over the years.
“As a farmer himself, my father has been really interested in it and has been very active in the business.”