Historically, chia has been cultivated in tropical and subtropical environments, from frost-free areas to regions where frosts occur every year, and from sea level up to 2500 m. Today, chia is commercially grown in Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, Australia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Bolivia. In Argentina and Mexico it is a summer—autumn crop, similar to corn, soybeans, and beans. In Bolivia, chia is an autumn—winter crop, sown following the harvest of other crops, and competes with winter wheat and sunflower. In Ecuador the crop can be grown all year round, with three to four harvests possible, depending upon location.
Chia is not frost-tolerant. It develops best in sandy loam soils; however, it can be grown in clay loam soils with adequate drainage. Generally, chia grows well in soils containing a range of nutrients; however, a low nitrogen content appears to be a barrier to good seed yield.
Chia is sown at a rate of 5—6 kg/ha, with row spacings of 0.7 or 0.8 m. It requires wet soil to germinate, but once seedlings are established chia does well with limited water. It can be grown either dryland or irrigated. 311
The first 45 days of growth are critical, as chia initially grows very slowly, and weeds can compete for light, nutrients, and water. As no herbicide has been found satisfactory for chia, weed control is of utmost importance when the plants are small. Once established, chia can be mechanically weeded until the canopy closes; weeds then become a minor problem under most conditions. Pests and diseases are essentially non-existent.
The seed used in commercial plantings is sufficiently uniform to allow harvest with a combine. Commercial seed yields generally are 500—600 kg/ha; however, some growers have obtained up to 1200 kg/ha. Experimental plots in Argentina have yielded 2500 kg/ha with irrigation and nitrogen fertilizer. Variations in yield indicate the need for germplasm that is adapted to a production zone, as well as good management practices to maximize commercial yields.
Planting date influences production. Biomass and seed yields have been significantly higher for plots planted earlier, rather than those planted later, even though different planting dates flowered at the same time. The difference in yield is probably due to the larger plants that developed because of a longer vegetative growth period.
Oil content and fatty acid composition are affected by location. A negative correlation between a-linolenic fatty acid content and mean temperatures has been found with chia (Ayerza & Coates, 2009).
As chia is sensitive to day length, the growing season depends on the latitude where it is planted. One chia selection sown in Columbia was harvested in 90 days; however, when sown in Argentina it needed 150 days to mature. In higher latitudes, like Choele-Choel (39°110 south) in Argentina, or Tucson (32°140 north) in Arizona, chia does not produce seeds, because the plant is killed by frost before the seed matures.
Seed that originated in western Guatemala was compared with chia commercially grown in Argentina. Under typical northwestern Argentina conditions, it needed 30 days more to meet daylight requirements for flowering to begin, than did the commercial chia.
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