A LITTLE known ancient seed has emerged as the most lucrative crop option for Stage 2 of the State and Federal Government's $415 million investment in the Ord River Irrigation Development project, now strongly supported by a major national supply partnership.
The partnership between The Chia Company and Bakers Delight will see the production of chia in the Ord River region double in 2010, with the industry on track to be worth $20 million in just five years' time.
It will help provide an established industry perfectly suited to the Kimberley region, when Stage 2 of the Ord River irrigation scheme rolls out in 2013, and create a profitable crop option for local farmers that will help them see a significant return on their investment.
The chia plant, first used by the Aztecs, produces a tiny seed that is the richest plant source combining Omega 3, dietary fibre, protein and antioxidants, making it the most nutritional grain available and therefore contributing to a healthy global community.
The Chia Company managing director John Foss, a Nuffield Scholar, first discovered the chia seed while researching global trends that would have an impact on agriculture including water, energy, environmental issues and consumer health and wellbeing.
He knew crops that would provide natural solutions to modern diet related diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity would be in high demand in the future.
"Starting a new industry from scratch has been a massive challenge; there was a lot of time, work and energy involved in starting something new and there were no books on how to grow chia," Mr Foss said.
Mr Foss, a fourth generation farmer in Bruce Rock, recognised the Kimberley region of WA as the ideal location to grow chia due to the distinct dry and wet seasons.
"Growing Chia is very latitude specific, it has to be grown in the range 15-20 degrees north or south of the Equator to optimise the Omega 3 ratio in the oil," Mr Foss said.
"Chia needs to be grown during the dry season as the seed is hydrophilic; it is covered by a microscopic fibre that turns to gel when it comes in contact with water.
"The gelling is one of the key nutritional and functional benefits of chia, but if chia gets rain on it, it will ruin the crop."
The development of the chia seed in Australia has been an arduous process, but the recent partnership with Bakers Delight is the result of such work.
Mr Foss began his research in 2002, but it wasn't until 2005 when the first trial crops were established and then 2006 when the company began selling chia to an international market.
"The supply partnership with Bakers Delight comes at such a good time as more land will become available in Stage 2 of the Ord River irrigation development," Mr Foss said.
Chia exports are already an international success story in the United States, Canada and Europe, where 95 per cent of Australian grown chia has been sent to date.
Mr Foss said the vision of The Chia Company was to make the nutritional benefits of chia available to all Australians on a daily basis.
He said the rapid growth of the chia industry has developed in line with the global demand for functional food crops.
"Food companies are looking for natural sources of Omega 3, dietary fibre and protein, and the Bakers Delight White Chia loaf realises on this vision," he said.
The Chia Company has been working closely with Bakers Delight for 12 months, during which time the national bakery network was looking for ingredients that focussed on consumer health.
"Bakers Delight was looking for a natural ingredient so we presented the chia seed to them," Mr Foss said.
"They chose the white seed and then developed a recipe to produce a healthy white loaf."
Mr Foss said the Bakers Delight supply partnership has now given them the confidence to continue to increase production.
"Our key focus has been to invest in the world's best supply chain for chia and to perfect our chia from production to consumers," he said.
"The success of The Chia Company development is a result of shared vision and innovation from everyone in our business and our customers.
"It hasn't been an easy task, but everyone in the supply chain has been involved to make it work."
Bakers Delight group corporate communications manager Kendra Teasdale said the business was happy to be partnered with The Chia Company while supporting Australian farmers and the agricultural industry.
"The aim was to develop a healthy loaf that would nutritionally benefit Australians," Ms Teasdale said.
"The loaf is white dough which is designed to be consumed as a daily bread to target those more health conscious and can benefit the general population."
Ms Teasdale said Bakers Delight has a strong health focus with a health range already established.
"We are constantly making new progress," she said.
"Other health products have been well received, so we're very confident in this product and there may be the potential for more products in the future."
The Bakers Delight bread will be available from stores as of today.