THE unveiling of a new lupin processing facility has paved the way for a resurgence in the legume.
Lupin Foods Australia (LFA) - a wholly owned subsidiary of CBH - opened the facility yesterday and said it would focus on marketing lupins as a new health food alternative on the domestic and global market.
Lupin Foods Australia general manager David Fienberg said the idea for the project emerged in 2009.
"We have progressively moved towards a lupin food strategy and we started to do the work in earnest from January this year," he said.
"So it has taken us 10 months to redesign the mill towards lupin food products.
"In that time we have developed the markets for lupins, and we developed the technology to produce the products and packaging."
Mr Fienberg said Indonesia was a target market, where lupins would be reintroduced as a brand new product in competition with soybeans.
"In parallel with that, we have brought on a lot of products that are extremely versatile, and are focused on being a functional food that can be eaten at either breakfast, lunch or dinner," he said.
Despite his enthusiasm, Mr Fienberg acknowledged lupins were currently a struggling commodity.
"It is about volatility, when you go to plant, the price of lupins is high, when you go to harvest the price has dropped away," he said.
"At the moment lupins are at about $315-$320 a tonne, which is fantastic, if only they would stay there."
When asked why CBH had opted to invest in the declining commodity, Mr Fienberg said the stars had lined up, with increased incidence of obesity and diabetes, market volatility and the appetite of CBH to provide more farmgate value back to growers at a time where they had never struggled more.
"We have science and great food technology, we have people asking us where this stuff has been for the past 20 years and why has it taken so long," he said.
"We have gathered a lot of work that has been done before.
"It was very much focused on agronomy before, but with the Department of Agriculture and Food and the CSIRO, and some quality food technology companies, we now have a focus on Australian food technologies and on a whole range of products that we think can be delivered to the doorstep and be used in any meal.
"We have a small team that is passionate about this and we hope that it flies."
Mr Fienberg said the initiative would focus on the demands of the current consumer and the modern need for easy, fast and healthy foods.
"We are not dealing with muffins, cakes and desserts and stuff that we feel that the current consumer doesn't have the time to muck around with," he said.
"With most of our foods, you can open the packet and within 15 minutes you have a meal.
"It is the highest natural source of protein and fibre in the world, and to quote the CSIRO, with the exception of iron and Vitamin B12, you could live on this in the desert for your entire life," he said.
"There is not another product in the world like this, so when we cobble together some simple but fantastic tasting foods, it can go on the table at any time of the day.
"It's gluten-free, it's high protein, it has fibre and an amazing amino acid profile.
"The way we know we are on the right path is that we have tested it and tested it, not only here but in Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales and internationally."
Mr Fienberg said the processing facility would provide two main advantages for WA growers.
"Firstly it will enable us to stabilise the price because we have decommoditised it and secondly, it will give us the ability to dramatically increase the value of lupins on farm, not only in terms of the ability to grow more hectares because you know the price is stable, but you know the price will go up," he said.
"If we continue to trade lupins in a commodity market as stock feed, it's pegged continuously against soybean meal.
"Soybean meal is volatile, it depends on what is happening in China and what is happening globally in terms of pork and chicken.
"We need to break that nexus and get it out of the market and create a whole new market for it and put it into a new position."
Mr Fienberg said there was potential to offer growers a fixed-price contract for up to two years.
"But we need a few things back, we need you to have on-farm quality systems that ensure we know exactly what the regime is in terms of chemical and agronomy," he said.
"We need specific varieties, we are not too sure what those are going to be, we need specific harvesting equipment, specific management on-farm and logistics so we get a very efficient demand and supply chain working together
"If we can do that, we believe this is just half a step away from what good farmers do now."
Mr Fienberg said he believed growers would eventually use wheat as their break crop, rather than lupins.
"Simply because they know they can rely on the price, they know it does amazing things to soil and weed programs," he said.
"If we can give them a white knight they will warm to it."
Mr Fienberg said DAFWA reports had clearly indicated potential to have 2-2.5 million tonnes of lupins grown in WA in an average season.
"We know we can probably source another 1mt from around Australia, and there are parts of the world that can lift their production as well," he said.
"We think by engaging with suppliers from WA and around Australia we can get stability of supply and work together to be able to distribute this food into a high quality market."
Mr Fienberg said LFA would be the first processing plant of this scale, with the ability to process up to 145,000t a year.
"In Western Europe there is about 500,000t of lupins eaten consistently, but it is quite sporadic, it is a different system and it is a different lupin to what we have here," he said.
"It has some amazing features that are not present in other lupins, we are trying to capitalise on those.
"We are underpinning all this with great medical evidence, preliminary indications indicate that you will reduce blood pressure, it will strip cholesterol and it will give you a gluten free break.
"On a protein per weight basis lupin foods are the equivalent of a porterhouse steak which is quite profound.
"145,000t is not going to make a massive change but what it does enable us to do is prove to the global market that WA has something amazingly different to the rest of the world."