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Alternative crops for the prairies

Ferdinand A. Kiehn and Mel Reimer Research Station Mordon, Manitoba



Botanical and common names: Amaranthus hybridus L. (green amaranth)

A cruentus L.S. (pigweed, purple amaranth, red amaranth, prince's-feathers )

A hybridus var. erythrostachys (wild beet)



Amaranth is the general name for a group of annuals that belong to the amaranth family. The plant originated in the Americas for use as a high protein grain. It was developed by the Aztec and Mayan civilizations. This grain crop is now grown for its edible seeds in Central and South America, and to a lesser extent in North America. Amaranth is also grown in China and India, where it is mainly used as a green vegetable. The colorful foliage and the heave, red and green spikes also make it desirable as an ornamental wherever the growing season is long.

The grain amaranth species are related to the redroot pigweed, Amaranthus retroflexus. Preliminary tests have produced yields from 1400 to 2800 kg/ha. The plant is similar to redroot pigweed in growth habit. Plants are 1-1.9 m high. Large green- or red-seeded heads or stout terminal panicles are generally 20-45 cm long and ~13 cm in diameter. The lens-shaped seed is slightly less than 1 mm in diameter and pale , allow . Judging by the growth and by yields produced under the hot. circa conditions of 1989, this crop appears to be relatively drought-tolerant. Either swathing or a severe frost is sometimes needed to facilitate harvesting.

Cultural information

Planting Plant in mid May, after the soil has warmed up to 10C, at a rate of 1-2 kg/ha, 0.5-1.25 cm deep. The soil should be moist and the seed should be applied with a carrier for more uniform distribution. Row spacing depends on row crop equipment, but 90-100 cm is recommended. Space plants 2-4 cm apart' resulting in a desired population of 300 000 plants per hectare. Plant seeds into a fine, firm seedbed, on land that has not been treated with soil-incorporated herbicides the previous year. Sandy loam soils appear to be better than heavy clay soils.

Fertilizer This crop does not require high fertility. A fertilizer regime similar to that required by cereals is believed to be enough to produce good yields.

Weed control Plant the crop on land uncontaminated by chemicals. No chemical control is registered. Use mechanical control until the plants are 30 cm high.

Harvesting Cut plants in mid September, when the heads are maturing. Allow the plants to dry, and then combine them. Alternatively, combine them after drying, following an early killing frost. Seeds are mature when they are firm and have turned a transparent-like color. Clean the seeds and store them at a maximum moisture level of 11C7c.


This crop appears to have fair agronomic potential as a commercial crop in the southern Canadian prairies. The potential for production depends on the development of expanded markets.

The market for this crop is currently limited in North America, but it can be developed and increased. The seed has potential as a noncereal flour in several flour-based products. It can also be popped like popcorn or flaked like oats in oatmeal.

Copyright 1992 .

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