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Amaranth Grain Production Guide 1987

. E. Weber

Rodale Research Center Rodale Press, Inc.

Copyright 1987 Rodale Press, Inc.

The RODALE RESEARCH CENTER is a division of Rodale Press and is dedicated to the development of efficient food production systems both on a commercial and family scale. Experiments conducted in agronomy, horticulture, new crops and entomology are helping to change trends in American agriculture. In addition, the Research Center is lending scientific support to the editorial staffs of RODALE'S ORGANIC GARDENING magazine and THE NEW FARM, the magazine of the Regenerative Agriculture Association (RAA).
































The sixth edition of the Amaranth Grain Production Guide is written for farmers in the United States who wish to grow amaranth to produce a grain crop. This broad-leaf plant produces large quantities of edible, small grain which has unique nutritional and food qualities. The plant also has potential for use as a forage. Grain amaranth's growing season parallels that of corn. Amaranth grown for grain is particularly suited to semi-arid farming areas which have adequate soil moisture at planting time, and dry conditions at harvest.

The large grain surpluses, which are accompanied by low grain prices, have rekindled the interest of farmers and researchers in alternative crop We believe that amaranth has the potential to become an important alternative crop. However, as with any new crop, amaranth is not a panacea for all the ills of agriculture. We repeat the warning we have printed with each edition of the amaranth production guide:


We encourage farmers to experiment with amaranth on a small scale. If you are growing amaranth for the first time, limit your acreage to 25 acres or less. Learn how to grow the crop. Develop market avenues for your crop. Wait to expand your amaranth acreage until you have developed your production techniques and a market for your crop.

Due to excess production in 1984 and 1985, many growers were unable to find a market for their amaranth. As a result, the amaranth acreage in 1986 was lower than any year since 1982. Less than 800 acres were grown in 1986.

New markets for amaranth are continuing to develop. It appears that much of the past production will be marketed before the 1987 crop is harvested. However, any farmer who increases his production in 1987 without a contract or guaranteed market, runs the risk of not being able to find a market.

Most amaranth growers reported 1986 harvested yields in the range of 300 to 1100 pounds per acre. A few growers averaged less than 200 pounds per acre. Important keys to higher yields appear to be good soil filth and fertility, adequate moisture at critical periods, and a high plant population.

Several resources are available to provide growers with timely information on production and marketing developments. Rodale Press, Inc. publishes a quarterly newsletter entitled Amaranth Today. Amaranth Today is aimed at potential users of amaranth in the food industry, growers and allied groups who are interested in marketing amaranth. A subscription can be obtained by writing to Amaranth Today, 33 E. Minor St., Emmaus, PA 18049.

A second newsletter, the Amaranth Growers' Newsletter, is published a vehicle for communication among members of the American Amaranth Institute. The American Amaranth Institute is open to any party involved in the production, handling, processing, marketing, or research of amaranth. For information about the Institute or the newsletter, contact Ken Patchen, at P.O. Box 464, Mundelain, IL 60060. Growers are encouraged to actively participate in American Amaranth Institute activities. The American Amaranth Institute can become very influencial in making amaranth an important profitable enterprise. Interest in alternative crops is increasing at many universities. The American Amaranth Institute can become an important voice in helping researchers identify research priorities in amaranth production, processing, new product development and marketing.

We hope that the above resources coupled with the experience of growers and researchers contained in the 1987 Amaranth Grain Production Guide will be useful as you pioneer the development of the new crop, grain amaranth.


Grain amaranth is, first and foremost, a drought-tolerant crop.

Amaranth is a C4 plant that has potential in areas traditionally used for growing sorghums and millets. It is a prospective dryland crop for farmers in semi-arid areas. In irrigated areas, amaranth is an alternative for farmers seeking to reduce irrigation costs.

2. Amaranth produces a nutritious grain which is very versatile as a food ingredient.

Amaranth grain has a unique protein which is high in the amino acid lysine. None of the common grains contain an adequate amount of this amino acid to meet human dietary needs.

In addition, some people with food allergies have used amaranth as a substitute for other grains. (Warning: We must express caution, as there are people who are allergic to amaranth.)

Also, amaranth has been tested for use in cereals, breads, pancake mixes, pastas and snack foods in combination with wheat and corn. It has been noted that blends of amaranth and corn, or amaranth and whole wheat, provide a protein that is as good as that in milk.

3. Amaranth is a way to diversify your farming enterprise.

It is interesting to note that most of the world's population is fed by only seven crops (rice, wheat, potatoes, corn, soybeans, the common bean and barley). What's more, it has been a common practice during the past 15 years for farmers to specialize in only a few crops. Amaranth, which is classified as a "pseudo-cereal," is a broad-leaf plant unlike the true grains and corn, which are grasses.

Crops like amaranth provide farmers with the option to increase the diversity of crops grown. Increasing the diversity of crops reduces the risk of insect, disease and weed pests becoming serious problems. A diverse cropping enterprise also helps insulate a farmer from the price vagaries of a single commodity market.


The main text of this guide outlines procedures for growing amaranth. Within the text, you will find letters along the margins of the book which address the six major problem areas that a grower needs to be aware of:

A. Amaranth varietal development is in its early stages.

Amaranth has small special attention.

seeds, thus, crop establishment needs

C. Weed control is critical to obtain a good plant stand, and to avoid contaminating the grain with weed seed during harvest

D. The optimal time for amaranth harvest is after a killing frost.

E. The cylinder speed of the combine should be reduced as much as possible to minimize grain damage.

Proper post harvest handling is critical for producing high quality grain.

The opportunities for large volume sales of grain amaranth are limited. Arrangements for marketing should be made prior to planting.


In this publication we use the word "variety" in a broad sense to include all amaranth being grown by farmers. The use of the word "variety" does not imply that amaranth being grown by farmers has a high degree of uniformity or that it has been widely tested.

Most farmers have planted Amaranthus cruentus (A. cr.) which is a "Mexican grain type." (See Appendix I for a description of the grain type classifications). The Mexican grain types mature in about 110 days and appear to be adapted to a wide geographic area. The most common Mexican grain type varieties grown are selections which were made by farmers from the Rodale Research Center (RRC) variety 1041.

In 1986, 25% of the amaranth acreage was planted with _. hypochondriacus (A. hp.), "mercado grain type." However, the long growing season requirement limits the regions where it can be grown. The two most common mercado grain types grown by farmers, white seeded 1023 and gold seeded 1024, mature in about 150 days.


Amaranth seed is available from seed companies and farmers listed in Appendix II. Many of the seed companies buy their seed directly from farmers.

When buying seed it is important to inquire about the seed production methods used. Were the fields kept free of weedy amaranth? Was each variety grown in an isolated area to prevent outcrossing with other varieties?

Amaranth grown for seed production requires a different type of management than amaranth grown for grain. Although amaranth is predominantly a self-pollinating crop, varying degrees of outcrossing have been noted. To prevent cross pollination between varieties, amaranth grown for seed needs to be isolated from other amaranth plantings. At the RRC, strips of corn are planted between amaranth lines to minimize pollen movement between lines.

In addition to keeping each variety physically isolated, it is also crucial that seed production fields be maintained free of weedy amaranth. Weedy amaranth can cross-pollinate with cultivated amaranth varieties. Seed harvested from plants contaminated with pollen from weedy amaranth produce crop-weed hybrids. The crop-weed hybrids reduce the yield of grain amaranth. Even more important is the difficulty the black seeds present in the cleaning process. Although there is a loss of some grain amaranth in the cleaning process, the small seed of weedy amaranth can be separated from the grain amaranth by size. However, the black seed of some crop-weed hybrids is the same size as the white grain of the amaranth crop. It is next to impossible to separate these seeds from the grain amaranth.

Harvesting presents another challenge for farmers producing seed of more than one variety. Great care must be taken to thoroughly clean out all seed left in the combine and cleaner. Access to all parts of the equipment is necessary to avoid contamination with seed of other varieties. It may take several hours to adequately clean equipment when changing from one variety to another.


Most of the amaranth varieties currently available are selections from germ plasm used for amaranth production in Mexico. Additional varietal development is necessary to obtain lines which are suitable for use in mechanized agriculture in the USA.

For commercial production in the United States, high yielding, early maturing varieties with a short plant stature that stand up until harvest with minimal shattering are needed. Good tasting grain that produces a large kernel when popped, or performs well as a flour in baked products, are also important characteristics for improved varieties.

A number of growers have saved the seed from superior plants to develop improved varieties with greater uniformity. Appendix III discusses methods farmers can use to develop improved varieties.

In an effort to move the variety development process along as rapidly possible, the RRC provides experienced amaranth growers with seed of experimental lines for field evaluation. These experienced growers provide a valuable service in helping determine the commercial potential of the experimental lines. In 1986, the experimental lines were evaluated in yield trials by researchers in Kansas, Nebraska, Arizona and Arkansas.. In addition to making plant selections to develop improved varieties, plant breeding research is underway at Iowa State University, Colorado State University, University of California at Davis and the RRC. Crosses are being made The experimental lines were also grown in observational plots in Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota, Idaho and New Jersey. A description of the RRC experimental lines is listed in Appendix IV.

Growers are cautioned that the planting of experimental lines should be limited to small plots. To minimize the risk of a crop failure, experimental lines need to be tested during several growing seasons at many locations before being planted on a large scale.


Each grower needs to develop a crop rotation system best suited to the soil and weather conditions of his/her farm. Following are several considerations to keep in mind in developing a rotation with amaranth:

1) Amaranth grows poorly on compacted soils. If soil compaction is a problem, consider plowing down a green manure crop prior to planting amaranth.

2) Research in Montana has shown that light colored amaranth seed has a lower over-wintering survival rate than dark colored seed. However, as with other crops, some of the seed left in the field may produce volunteer plants the following season. Some growers in dryland areas fallow after amaranth to eliminate volunteers

3) Amaranth is planted in a row spacing which permits cultivation to control weeds. At this row spacing in semi-arid regions, amaranth produces less crop residue than wheat. Thus the soil is less protected from erosion during the winter months following a crop of amaranth.

Methods for providing better soil cover need to be developed. This can be achieved by growing amaranth at a closer row spacing if a method is developed for controlling weeds.

At the University of Minnesota, Dr. Robinson maintained a soil cover by no-till planting in oat and alfalfa stubble which was killed by spraying with glyphosate. Amaranth yields were slightly lower than in conventional tilled plots due to slower emergence. The slower emergence was attributed to colder and drier soils. '

Dr. Robinson also experimented with a ground cover provided by interseeding amaranth with a small grain. The growth of the small grain crop was restricted by the hot summer temperatures. However, when this approach was tried at the RRC, the amaranth growth was stunted by competition for moisture by the interseeded small grain crop. Broad-leaf pressure was greatly reduced by the small grain crop, but weed control in the amaranth row was inadequate. Additional experimentation is needed to develop better ground cover for commercial amaranth production.


Amaranth is a warm season crop. The best germination is attained when soil temperatures range from 65 to 75F (18to BLOC). Optimal growth occurs when the average soil temperature reaches an average day/night temperature of 70 degrees F. In general, germination will be rapid (four to six days) if the proper conditions of soil moisture and temperature exist. In many northern areas, it can be assumed that optimal soil temperatures will be obtained approximately two weeks after the last frost date. A good indicator for the determination of planting time is to consider the recommended planting date for sweet corn or lima beans in your area. At the RRC, and across much of the grain growing areas of the United States, the average optimal planting date is considered to be late May to early June.

In areas prone to rapid drying of the soil surface, planting should be done as soon as the soil warms to the optimal temperature to allow amaranth to become established before the soil surface dries. The window for optimal planting conditions is more limited for amaranth than for crops with larger seeds which can be planted deeper. Soil temperature and moisture conditions should be closely monitored to plant when soil conditions are optimal.


Several things need to be considered when selecting a field for amaranth. The field history, especially past weed populations, needs to be taken into account. It is best to avoid fields with weeds such as weedy amaranth and lambsquarter, which germinate at soil temperatures similar to grain amaranth. Any warm-season weeds which germinate at the same time as grain amaranth cause problems with in-the-row weed control. In addition, harvested grain contaminated with weed seed increases the loss of grain in the cleaning process.

The shallow planting requirement makes amaranth susceptible to washing, or being buried by soil in the event of heavy rains before or during emergence. Such losses can be minimized by selecting fields that are level, and have plant residue from the previous crop on the soil surface.

Growers report that the best growth is produced on plants grown on mellow (friable) soils. The amaranth plant appears to be especially sensitive to compacted soil conditions. Wayne Applegate was able to look at stunted plants and estimate (with a fair degree of accuracy) the depth of the hardpan. The more shallow the hardpan, the shorter the plant.

Growers with compacted heavy soils should consider plowing under a green manure crop to improve the soil structure before planting amaranth. Plowing down a stand of clover is a practice Mike Irwin uses to prepare a seedbed with good soil filth. To attain a well prepared seedbed in fields where a sod is being plowed down, it is important to plow several weeks before planting. This allows the residue to break down before planting. Plant residues on the surface may be a problem with some planters.

Mike Irwin has noted better soil filth and higher yields on ground that is fall plowed rather than spring plowed. However, fall plowing should be done only in protected areas which are not susceptible to wind and water erosion of the soil. Amaranth requires a fine, loose seedbed which can be firmed to provide small seeds with good soil contact. Several growers prepare a firm seedbed by using a rodweeder. Seeds planted in cloddy soil are prone to drying out after imbibing water. This is due to the large air spaces provided by soil clods. Clods should be pulverized to provide a layer of fine soil on the surface of the seedbed.

Crusting can be a problem on heavy soils. One way to prevent crusting is to practice pre-emergence cultivation (also called blind cultivation). Some growers have used a rotary hoe successfully just prior to seedling emergence. The rotary hoe is set so that only the upper crust of soil is slightly disturbed. A rotary hoe may be especially useful if the seeds have been planted in a shallow furrow.


Amaranth seeds are very small, the weight of 1000 seeds varying from 0.7 to 0.9 grams (as compared to 150 to 200 grams per 100`0 seeds of many soybean varieties). Using grain sieves as a measuring device, it has been noted that the largest grain amaranth seeds are only 1/16" in diameter. A few varieties have seed as small as 1/23" in diameter

Due to small seed size, shallow planting is required. In experiments designed to determine the effects of seeding depth on emergence, Webb reported that a planting depth of more than 1/2" delayed and decreased emergence. In dryland areas, a planting depth of more than 1/2" may be necessary to obtain adequate moisture for germination. Webb suggested that seeding as deep as 1" may be practical in friable soils if seeding rates are adjusted to compensate for reduced emergence associated with depth.

One approach to moisture conservation in dryland areas is to open the row to remove the "dust mulch." The seed is then planted in the moist soil underneath. This approach can give amaranth a head start on rain-sprouted weed seeds. Growers report there is a trade-off in planting in a furrow to get the seed in moist soil, and losing moisture by stirring up moist soil. Ken Patchen in Illinois pointed out that the opened row may also act as a channel for surface water. There is a danger that seeds or seedlings that are not firmly established, may be washed out of the furrow.

To avoid planting in a furrow, Ben Jones and Jack Horst in southcentral Nebraska, plan to experiment with ridge-till planting. They will modify their Max-Emerge planter to remove the top of ridges at planting which will permit them to plant into moisture.

A press wheel on the planter can provide essential seed-to-soil contact to insure rapid germination and emergence. A number of press wheel options are available for different soil conditions. On heavy soils, a greater problem with crusting may result when press wheels firm the soil on top of the seed. Double press wheels provide good soil contact on both sides of the seed but maintain loose soil directly over the seed. Crusting problems are minimized.

John Eklund in Wyoming mounted a rake behind the press wheel to maintain a mellow soil surface over the row. A rake provided better soil conditions for emergence than did dragging a chain behind the press wheel.

A variety of planters can be used for planting amaranth. The three requirements are that the planter have the capability of: 1) planting at a uniform shallow depth 2) metering 1 to 2 pounds of small seed per acre 3) providing good seed-to-soil contact.

The first amaranth growers used John Deere vegetable planters with the celery seed plate for planting amaranth (The seed of some amaranth lines is too large for the celery plate. The carrot plate has been used by some growers for larger seed.) Excellent plant stands can be obtained with the vegetable planter units.

Several growers have reduced start-up costs by modifying used Milton sugar beet planters. Special seed plates were manufactured for planting amaranth with the modified planter .

To get a good plant stand, it is important to use clean, high quality seed with precision planters. The stand will be reduced if trash and nonviable seed displace good seed in the seed plate cells.

A number of growers have demonstrated that precision seeding is not necessary with amaranth. Excellent plant stands have been achieved by planting with Max-Emerge planters using insecticide boxes set to meter 1 to 2 pounds of seed per acre. Grain drills have also been used with varying degrees of success. The small seed size of amaranth makes it difficult to adequately reduce the seeding rate with some drills. The lack of good shallow depth control is also a limitation of many drills.

To obtain a row spacing which is wide enough to allow cultivation, Mark Jones in Nebraska planted amaranth in 24" shut the appropriate holes in the seed box of a grain drill mechanical rows. He taped The following are the important points to consider prior to planting:

1) Fields with soil compaction or warm season weed infestations should be avoided.

2) Soil should be warm (60-65F).

3) Good soil moisture is needed at the time of planting.

4) A good firm seedbed helps maintain soil moisture.

5) Depth control is important. Emergence is delayed as the seeding depth is increased.

6) A press wheel is helpful in establishing seed-soil contact.

7) Seed should be planted at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds per acre.


Trials have been conducted at the RRC over a period of four years to determine optimal densities. This information has been reported in the Report RRC/NC-83/8 by Peggy Wagoner (available from RRC). At low plant densities, grain amaranth is a rather bushy plant with heavy stalks. By increasing the plant population, the size of the plant stem and the amount of branching is reduced. Plants with smaller stalks and less branching tend to be better suited for mechanical harvest.

Growers who plant at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds of seed per acre report that the competition for moisture and nutrients with high plant populations, helps limit the plant height. The varieties currently available will grow to a height of eight feet under optimal growing conditions. A high plant density is one way of limiting the height of the plants. Growers may find it beneficial to experiment with different planting rates to determine the best seeding rate for their soil and moisture conditions.


Amaranth can be considered to be a low maintenance crop, as are all grains. There is little that needs to be done to the fields between the time of the last cultivation and harvest.

Grain amaranth grows slowly during the first few weeks As the plants reach about one foot in height, they begin to grow very rapidly and the canopy closes in.

When the soil surface remains sufficiently moist for weeds to germinate, cultivation is essential to minimize competition with the crop. Cultivation may be required as soon as the amaranth begins to emerge. Although cultivation at this time is tedious, it can make the difference between saving or losing the crop.

Hilling shoes can be used with later cultivations. This will throw additional soil within the rows to help control weeds there. Hilling also supports the plant and helps reduce lodging.

Several growers pay migrant crews to hand-weed their amaranth fields to avoid contaminating their grain with weed seeds. Weed free grain greatly reduces the clean-out losses which occur when grain amaranth is contaminated with weed seed. The reduction in clean-out losses can more than pay for the labor required to hand-weed a field.

A few growers in semi-arid areas irrigated their amaranth crop to supplement below-normal rainfall. These growers estimate that amaranth requires about one-half the moisture required by corn.

Although the precise water requirements for amaranth have not been determined, researchers at Native Plants Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah, have conducted comparative yield trials with grain sorghum and millet under irrigation in the arid west. Some lines of amaranth yielded as much grain as the best millets and sorghum under a limited moisture regime. Grower observations of amaranth under dryland conditions indicate the drought tolerance of amaranth is very similar to sorghum.


Many growers apply minimal or no fertilizer to their amaranth crop since they want to limit the vegetative growth of the plants. The residual soil nutrients appear to be adequate in areas with high organic matter soils and low rainfall. In areas where moisture is not a limiting factor, growers report applying 40-50 pounds of nitrogen/acre. Higher levels appear to promote excessive vegetative growth making the plants more susceptible to lodging.

Growers may find it beneficial to experiment with different rates to determine the optimal nitrogen level for their rainfall and soil conditions. The following factors need to be considered when determining the rate of nitrogen to be applied:

1. Residual soil nitrogen.

In areas where evapotranspiration exceeds or is equal to precipitation, soil nitrogen carryover from one season to the next can be significant. Soil tests for residual nitrogen are useful in areas west of Iowa. Soil organic matter also releases nitrogen during the growing season. The amount of nitrogen released depends upon the type of soil, moisture, temperature, and other factors. Nitrogen may also be supplied by manure that was applied, or legumes that are part of the rotation.

2. Unavailable nitrogen and nitrogen loss.

When heavy crop residues are incorporated in the soil, the nitrogen demand for breaking down the residues may limit the amount of nitrogen available to the growing crop. Leaching and denitrification can also lead to nitrogen losses.

3. The amount of residual soil nitrogen plus the amount off nitrogen applied should be less than 90 pounds per acre.

Plant tissue analysis of the above ground portion of the plant at the RRC during a growing season with ample moisture indicates a total nitrogen uptake of 90 pounds/acre. However, with this amount of nitrogen the plants grow quite tall and are prone to lodging.

In Arkansas, Endres applied 0, 100 and 200 kgs N/ha to amaranth (legs/ha is roughly equivalent to lbs/acre). Endres reported a significant yield increase in plots with added nitrogen, but no significant yield difference between 100 and 200 kgs N/kg. An increase in plant height and lodging was reported at the higher nitrogen rates.

More precise nitrogen recommendations will be developed as farmers continue to make observations and additional research on the response of amaranth to nitrogen is conducted. For additional discussion on determining fertilizer rates, growers can consult The Farmer's Fertilizer Handbook (available from the Regenerative Agriculture Association Library, 222 Main St., Emmaus, PA 18049 for $17.95). For specific details on the amount of nitrogen supplied by your soils, contact your local Extension agent.


Commercial dryland amaranth growers have not encountered disease problems of economic importance. However, we know that some amaranth lines are susceptible to soil-borne organisms associated with damping-off and stalk-rot (Pythium, Fusarium. and Bacterium sup.). Poorly drained soils should be avoided to minimize problems with these diseases. In Arizona, Syl Arena encountered root-rot problems during a period of frequent irrigations early in the season.

Growers should monitor amaranth plants on a weekly basis and note any signs of disease, and the amaranth lines which are susceptible. If any serious diseases develop, plant samples should be sent to the Extension Plant Pathology Department of the land grant university for identification of the disease organism. Contact your local county agent for the address.


The most prevalent insect infesting grain amaranth is the tarnished plant bug, Lyqus lineolarius . Infestations with the tarnished plant bug were observed in all the amaranth plots Leon Weber visited in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Arizona in 1986.

The tarnished plant bug feeds on a wide range of plants. They can complete a life cycle in 30 days, thus producing several generations in one season.

The tarnished plant bug is a sucking insect which damages the crop by feeding on succulent plant tissue. Feeding on floral parts can kill portions of the flower which dry up and turn brown. Feeding on immature grains leaves the grains shrunken and discolored. Fortunately, the damaged grains are lighter in weight and can be removed in the cleaning process.

Dr. Richard Wilson, entomologist at the Regional Plant Introduction Station at Ames, Iowa, is screening amaranth lines for resistance to the tarnished plant bug.

Amaranth seedlings are sometimes attacked by flea beetles while young and succulent. Amaranth plants are most vulnerable to flea beetles when they are growing slowly during the first week or two after emergence. Growers who encounter problems with flea beetles might consider planting amaranth at an earlier date. By planting earlier, the amaranth plants may be able to develop sufficiently before the emergence of the flea beetles to escape damage.

The amaranth weevil, (Conotrachelus seniculus Lec.), is another potentially serious pest of grain amaranth. The larvae bore into the root tissue and occasionally the stems of the plant. Larvae damage opens the plant tissue to organisms which cause rotting. The damage caused by the borer and the disease organisms weaken the stem and roots, making the plant susceptible to lodging.

The amaranth weevil adult stays in the soil during the day and feeds on the leaves during the night. The adult lays under the epidermis of the stem near the ground. The larvae migrate down and tunnel into the roots.

Since very little is known about the life cycle of the amaranth weevil, Dr. Wilson is attempting to determine how the amaranth weevil overwinters, and how many generations are produced in a year.

Reports in the literature indicate the amaranth weevil has been most commonly found on weedy amaranth,A. retroflexus. In addition to amaranth, it has been found on beans, alfalfa, grass and in cotton bolls. The weevil has been reported in many areas of the U.S. We find it in many of the lodged plants at the RRC. Amaranth researchers in Mexico also find weevil damage in lodged plants.

As more is learned about the prevalence, the extent of damage, and the life cycle of the amaranth weevil, the need for control strategies can be determined.

European corn borer larvae, (Ostrinia nubilalis), have been identified in the inflorescence of some amaranth lines grown at the RRC. The portion of the flower above the larvae, turned brown and died. Up to 20% of the plants were infested in one plot.

Dr. Wilson welcomes information from growers about insects found on amaranth. As the amaranth acreage increases, more insects of economic importance will be found. Early identification of potential pests helps researchers develop the needed information for controlling pests before they become a serious problem. Insect specimens can be sent to Dr. Wilson for identification at the USDA Plant Introduction Station, Ames, Iowa 50011.


Most amaranth varieties maintain a high moisture content in the stem and leaves until the plants are killed by frost. The plants do not dry down sufficiently at maturity to permit combine harvest before a killing frost.

The lack of synchronous dry down at maturity limits commercial amaranth production with presently available varieties to areas with killing frosts. The temperature, relative humidity, duration of freezing temperatures and the amount of plant canopy all have an effect on whether a frost will kill the plant. After a killing frost, the plants dry down within ten days if dry weather conditions prevail. Harvesting should be done as soon as possible to reduce wind damage and grain shattering.

Grain amaranth production is best suited to areas that have dry weather in the fall. The seed heads of amaranth are rather loose and open, unlike corn and soybeans which have "water resistant packaging" surrounding the seeds. It is important to allow the amaranth flowerheads to dry out following rains and heavy dew conditions before harvesting. If a grain combine is used to harvest wet plants, the small grain is likely to stick to the wet plant material as it is threshed resulting in a high harvest loss of grain. Growers have successfully used many types of combines for harvesting amaranth. Several growers with small acreage of amaranth have used an Allis Chalmers Model No. 66 combine which is noted for its performance in threshing and cleaning crops with a small seed. Growers with large scale plantings have used the same combines normally used for wheat and bean harvest. Alfalfa or clover screens are used for the bottom sieve to improve the grain cleaning.

Some growers have reported their combine does an excellent job of. separating the grain from the chaff if the plants are sufficiently dry. If the moisture content of the plant is too high, it is difficult to do a good job of separating the grain. This increases the time and labor required to adequately dry and clean the grain. Large quantities of moist chaff mixed with the grain cause difficulty in drying the grain and increase the danger of it becoming moldy. A technique used by farmers in to run the grain through the combine a second time.

The largest grain loss in combining amaranth occurs in the gathering process. Individual row harvesting units can reduce gathering losses and are particularly useful if lodging is a problem. Growers without access to row headers have made minor modifications to minimize grain shattering by the combine reel. Arris Sigle reduced shattering losses by removing several of the reel bats. Mike Irwin raised the height of the reel and moved it out in front of the sickle bar. Grain losses due to seed heads vibrating off the header have been minimized by using a header with a downward pitch towards the combine. Wayne Applegate solved the same problem by bolting a 2x4 behind the cutter bar. A sunflower header with catch pans which catch grain as it shatters was used by Vincent Wenger to harvest amaranth.

The cylinder speed of the combine should be reduced as much as possible to minimize damage to the grain. Damage by a high cylinder speed will lower the germination of seed, and lower the volume of popped grain.

Growers are cautioned to minimize the inhalation of amaranth dust by wearing dust masks when harvesting or cleaning amaranth. Some growers find the spiny tracts in the chaff to be particularly irritating. As with any dust particles, repeated exposure can lead to allergy problems.


Post-harvest practices are very important for maintaining high quality grain. It is important to harvest the grain when the plants are as dry as possible. However, the longer the plants stay in the field after the first killing frost, the higher the likelihood that the quality of the grain will be reduced by wet weather. The problems with grain drying will vary from year to year depending on weather conditions.

It is important to remove as much vegetative material as possible from the grain at harvest time to reduce the potential sources for the introduction of mold and undesirable flavors. If the combine does not do a good job of removing foreign matter, it is important to clean the grain as soon as possible (i.e., clean before drying).It is also important to monitor the moisture content. Amaranth grain will mold quickly and become unfit for human consumption if stored when it has a moisture content that is too high. Amaranth grain should be dried to a moisture level of 10-12% for storage.

In 1982, amaranth was tested at the labs of Dickey-John Corporation in Auburn, Illinois to determine how to test amaranth moisture at grain elevators equipped with the Dickey-John moisture tester. A moisture test for grain amaranth has been developed by Dickey-John. For information on the actual methods used for monitoring grain moisture with the equipment, call Martin Wagner at Dickey-John Corp. (217) 438-3371.

Amaranth grain may need little additional drying if dry weather conditions prevail during the harvest of dry plants. Before assuming that this is the case, we recommend that a sample of grain be tested for moisture content. Several growers have had to discard their grain because the moisture content was too high and the grain molded.


Small quantities of grain can be dried by moving ambient air over a pile of grain. Stirring the grain helps to Grain can also be dried by forcing air of grain. Drying with ambient air is prevail.

Ensure even drying throughout the pile. through perforated pipe under the pile an option when drying weather condition

Due to the small size of amaranth, conventional grain dryers need to be adapted for drying amaranth. Ben Jones is able to dry his amaranth by placing a fine-mesh nylon cloth over the perforated floor of his grain dryer. Joe Befort is considering adapting his Farm Fans batch dryer by reversing the side panels to prevent the grain from leaking through the louvers.

Mike Irwin has adapted a 2-ton mixer to dry amaranth with heat. Heat is injected at the bottom of the mixer. A fan at the top of the mixer draws the heated air through the constantly agitated grain.

SAFETY WARNING: Piled grain does not hold the weight of a person. One person sank to a depth of two to three feet. The seeds act as small ball bearings, and when stacked, can be similar to quicksand. Although no one has fallen in very deeply, we advise that a cautious attitude be taken.


Careful attention to cleaning the grain is required to provide the buyer with a quality product with a minimum of foreign material. Since specialized equipment is needed to adequately clean amaranth, most growers limit their cleaning to scalping the bulk of the trash from the grain. This preliminary cleaning minimizes the cost of transporting trash with the grain.

The final cleaning can be done by many local grain cleaners. Grain cleaners have the specialized equipment needed for cleaning small grain and are generally more experienced in adjusting the cleaning equipment to produce clean grain with a minimum loss of grain.

Wayne Applegate found that a local grain cleaner's alfalfa scarifier does an effective job of removing dirt particles from amaranth. The scarifier breaks up dirt particles and vacuums the dirt from the grain.

Dried, cleaned grain should be placed in rodent proof storage with adequate ventilation to prevent a build-up of condensation. Good storage conditions are needed to maintain the grain in top quality, food condition.

Growers who bag their grain need to keep in mind that the grain is very small and will pass through the mesh of certain types of woven material. We have found that heavy duty paper bags work quite well (4 or 5 ply is best). A poly liner may be helpful if the grain is stored under less-than-optimal conditions. (However, remember that the grain will need to be completely dry before it can be put into that type of bag). It is best to fold the bag over at least one time before stitching the bag shut so that the grain will not fall through the stitches.


Before planting a commercial crop of amaranth, the grower should seriously consider how and where the crop will be marketed. Since there is no guaranteed market unless prior arrangements have been made with a buyer, the grower should think carefully about the method(s) he (or she) will use to sell what is harvested. Amaranth growers have developed a number of methods for marketing their crop. The strategy a grower selects depends on the scale of production as well as his/her resources, capabilities and interest.

Opportunities for large volume sales continue to expand each year. However, large volume markets are limited. Firms which market amaranth products are listed in Appendix V. In addition to U.S. markets, a few growers have found export markets for organically grown grain.

Several growers have developed local outlets for their grain. Mike Irwin sells the grain from the nine acres he grows to local health food stores and bakeries. Wayne Applegate developed a pancake mix which he is marketing in local stores. Other growers operate mail-order businesses selling primarily whole grain and flour directly to consumers.

Regardless of the method of marketing selected, merchandising is a vital aspect of selling amaranth to new buyers. Because amaranth is a new and relatively unknown crop, the seller must educate the customers about the benefits, uses and special qualities of the grain. Why buy this new grain? How is it better or different than wheat, corn, soybeans, etc? What unique uses does it have? The colorful history and appearance of the crop are appealing factors in promoting amaranth. And the protein quality (high lysine content) and high fiber content of amaranth are outstanding nutritional characteristics. Its taste, usefulness as a popped product and its value when combined with corn or wheat are unique points.

Most of the current growers who sell directly to consumers have produced brochures and/or fact sheets on amaranth. Information on prices and shipping are also included. Relatively current articles from the popular press such as the October, 1984 New York Times article (see Appendix VII for a listing from the past four years) can help to reinforce the value of the crop.

One rather unique marketing angle for amaranth is its usefulness by some people who are allergic to the gluten in wheat and other grains. The champion of amaranth as an alternative substitute for wheat is Marjorie Hurt Jones, a registered nurse and author of two books on the subject (Baking with Amaranth, 1983, self published, and The Allergy Self-Help Cookbook, Rodale Press, Inc., 1984).

Jones has also written a short essay on selling techniques specifically for growers interested in reaching the allergy market. You can receive a copy of this by sending a stamped, self-addressed business envelope to Jones at P.O. Box 257, Deerfield, IL 60015. If you also want her booklet, Baking with Amaranth, include a check for $2.50.

Amaranth Today reported on products, innovations and enterpreneurs who have developed amaranth products. If you are aware of products which might be featured in this publication, contact Craig Cramer at (215) 967-5171, ext. 1108.

The Rodale Food Consultants are promoting amaranth product development by working with food companies with an interest in amaranth. Marketing specialists in food companies feel amaranth is highly marketable for the reasons outlined above. Bakeries, snack food companies and breakfast cereal companies are exploring the use of amaranth as an ingredient in new products.

Food companies exploring amaranth as a new ingredient commonly ask for a sample of the grain before purchasing a bulk lot. Grain samples sent to food companies should be well packaged to insure that the grain arrives intact. The sample should be labeled with information such as the type of product (i.e. grain, flour, popped grain), variety and species, where grown, date of packaging, weight of the sample and the proximate analysis (percent protein, carbohydrates, fat and moisture content), if possible. Ask your county extension staff for suggestions on where a proximate analysis of your grain can be obtained locally.

The information the grower provides about the sample is useful to the buyer for interpreting the quality and utility of the grain. It can also be helpful in determining the cause of a problem the buyer may encounter with the grain sample.

NOTE: Food companies inquiring about amaranth as a new ingredient often need a quick response. If you or someone is not usually near your phone, consider investing in a phone answering machine.


Continual progress is occurring in improving production techniques, variety development, expanding markets, new amaranth product development, and increasing interest by agronomists, plant breeders and food technologists in amaranth.

Growers continue to improve and fine-tune production techniques. Plant breeding and regional experimental variety evaluations by farmers, researchers and extension agents are underway to develop improved varieties with increased yields. Potential economic insect pests are being investigated.

Although large volume markets have not developed as quickly as we might wish, the food industry continues to express interest in amaranth. A number of small scale growers have successfully developed local markets for the grain they produce with a range of amaranth food products. The development of local markets increases the consumer awareness of amaranth and will pave the way for additional large volume markets.

Improving production and developing new markets are challenges faced by growers of all new crops. The American Amaranth Institute was formed to help growers meet these challenges. Two newsletters, Amaranth Today and the Amaranth Growers' Newsletter, provide consumers, agricultural researchers, the food industry, and farmers with current information on amaranth developments.

The combined resources of farmers, researchers, food technologists, and entrepreneurs in introducing amaranth as a new crop will continue the establishment of amaranth as a more prominent and profitable crop.


Mexican Grain Type


Almost all of the growers in the U.S. are growing this type of plant. It is from the species A. cruentus and is the most commonly grown type in Mexico. This grain type is the earliest maturing and has the shortest plant habit of the white seeded grain types. At a high density, the main stalk is relatively thin and the plant is unbranched. When moisture and fertility are not limiting, the plants grow up to seven feet tall.

African Grain Type

This small, dark seeded type of A. cruentus is grown as a vegetable in western Africa. Although it has no potential for grain production in the U.S., we find that it can be a very important breeding parent to impart the important characteristics of early maturity and high yield.

Mercado Grain Type

The mercado type also originated in Mexico, but is from the species A. hypochondriacus. In most parts of the U.S., this type is too slow maturing to assure a good crop every year. Plants can grow up to eight feet tall which makes mechanical harvest difficult. This grain type produces large white or gold colored grain.

Aztec Grain Type

This A. hypochondriacus grain type also originated from central Mexico. The agronomic characteristics are similar to the mercado grain type. However when grown under long day conditions, floral initiation occurs too late for the grain to mature in most areas of the U.S.

Nepal Grain Type

This A. hypochondriacus grain type originated from Nepal. It is very similar to the Aztec grain type from Mexico. Thus its use is limited to southern latitudes of the U.S., or as a breeding parent.

Prima Grain Type

The prima type is from the species hybridus. It is an important germ plasm source in breeding for agronomic characteristics of early maturity, short plant height, and dry down of the plant at maturity.



The Good Seed Company P.O. Box 702-D4 Tonasket, WA 98855

A. cruentus

A. hypochondriacus

Johnny's Selected Seeds Albion, ME 04910 (207) 437-4301

A. cruentus (has developed an improved line - R158)

Mellinger's Inc. 2310 W. South Range Road North Lima, OH 44452 (216) 549-9861

A. cruentus

Plants of the Southwest 1812 Second Street Santa Fe, NM 87501 (505) 983-1548 A. cruentus A. hypochondriacus

The following growers also supply seed (See addresses in Appendix V.)

Mike Irwin

Jack Horst

Mark Jones

Steve Olson

Arris Sigle

Larry Walters



As has been stated a number of times in this guide, amaranth is in the early stages of development. Almost all of the varieties that are available have been selected here at RRC. Regionally developed varieties for grain amaranth are not available as they are for corn. In the future, it will be important that regional selection be done to develop varieties best suited for specific uses, as well as for the growing requirements of a particular area.

If you observe your amaranth field closely, you will note slight differences among plants. You can develop skill in picking out characteristics that will help you to improve the appearance and performance of the crop on your farm.

As you walk through the field, look at the whole plant, not just the seed head. Select more than one plant with good traits. This will provide you with greater genetic diversity for development of lines adapted to your specific soil, climatic and cultural conditions.

Make a number of trips through the fields at different times during the growing season to observe traits that change. For example, if the early part of the growing season is cool, you may wish to go through the field early in the season and select plants that seem to have a great deal of vigor in spite of the adverse conditions. Late in the summer, you should look for individuals that appear to be approaching maturity faster than others. If there has been lodging, you may wish to select plants that are still standing. (Be sure that the resistance to lodging is not actually a result of the location in the field). Other characteristics that you may wish to select for are: plant size, general vigor, lack of branching, drought tolerance, etc.

Selected plants should be marked. A good thing to use is day-glow orange surveyor's tape tied around the stem of the selected plants. To avoid any chances of cross-pollination, the selected plants should be physically isolated from neighboring plants and amaranth weeds before pollen is shed. This can be done by destroying the neighboring plants or by cutting off their flower heads.

When the seed heads mature, be sure to harvest the selected flower heads a few days before the harvest of the entire field. You may wish to assign a number to each selection as you harvest it and record the special qualities that it has. When recording such information, be sure to indicate the approximate location in the field, its flower color, approximate height in relation to the other plants in the field, and the special qualities that singled it out for selection. The single plant selections should be harvested individually into a separate paper or cloth bag (but not plastic) that is marked with the selection number. Make sure that the bag is put someplace where the seed head will dry rapidly. Clean the seeds by hand.



Producers and retailers of organic foods who are looking for the critical wholesale link in the marketing chain might want to buy the "Directory of Wholesalers of Organic Produce and Products."

The 1987 edition lists 250 buyers and suppliers from 40 states and provinces. Expanded listings for many of the wholesalers provide information on the commodities bought and sold, packaging and and labelling requirements, areas of operation, and service offered.

The cost is $19.00. Write: CAAP, P.O. Box 464, Davis, California

95617. Phone: (916) 756-8518.



Articles on Amaranth from Popular Press Since 1981

Anonymous. 1983. Future foods: a taste of what's to come. Changing Times 37(5):89-91.

Brody, Jane E. 1984. Ancient, forgotten plant now "grain of the future." The New York Times, October 16, 1984, C1,C9.

Brusko, Mike. 1983. Building your own future with amaranth. The New Farm May/June:29-33.

Cohen, Ellen. 1982. Amaranth on the move. Organic Gardening 29(3):96-100.

Daly, John. 1984. New uses for nature's treasures. Horizons 3(4):26-31.

Dull, Syd. 1983. Promising new crops. The Furrow 88(6):6-9.

Irwin, Christopher. 1985. Amaranth: another high lysine, high fiber grain. The Saturday Evening Post 257(1):26-27, 110.

Jones, Marjorie H. 1982. Baking with Amaranth.

National Research Council. 1984. Amaranth: modern prospects for an ancient crop. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

Rodale, Robert. 1981. A progress report on our favorite plant. Organic Gardening 28(7):26-31.

Rodale, Robert. 1985. Amaranth is coming back. Organic Gardening 32(1):24 -27.

Sauer, Jonathan D. 1983. Amaranths - ancient, almost forgotten crops may be making a comeback. The Herbarist 49:105-114.

Saunders, R. M., and R. Becker. 1983. Amaranthus: a potential food and feed resource. Advances in Cereal Science and Technology Vol. 6, Chapter 7.

Sugarman, Carole. 1986. For amber waves of grain. The Washington Post, August 27, 1986, E1,E14.

Tucker, Jonathan B. 1986. Amaranth: the once and future crop. Bioscience 36(1):9-13.

Vietmeyer, N. D. 1981. Rediscovering America's forgotten crops. Nat. Geo 159(5):702-712.

Vietmeyer, N. D. 1982. Amaranth: return of the Aztec mystery crop. pp. 89-195. In Yearbook of Science in the Future, 1983 edition. Encyl. grit., Chicago, Illinois.

Vietmeyer, N. D. 1983. Future harvests. Unfamiliar plants may someday enrich our national larder. Horticulture 61(4):24-29.

Vietmeyer. N. D. 1983. Plants that could become major world crops. The New Zealand Farmer. 104(2):106-109.

Williams, A. R. 1981. Amaranth. Americas (June-July):8-13.


We appreciate the time that went into the preparation of the forms which detailed the farmers' experiences. Wherever possible, we have used information from those forms in the text.

Wayne and Linda Applegate, Luray, KS Joe Befort, Lebanon, KS Jack Horst, Edgar, NE Mike Irwin, Lodi, WI Ben Jones, Edgar, NE Mark Jones, Oshkosh, NE Charles McNeal, Paradise, KS Calvin Oliverius, Albin, WY Arris Sigle, Luray, KS


Rodale Press does not endorse any of the products listed by brand name in this bulletin.

Copyright 1987