PANAM Semences recently announced that it would be the first company to bring to market ORURO®, a chia seed variety growing well in the south of France. Established in Chile as Semameris in 1986, the Franco-Chilean Group started PANAM in France in 1998. The family-owned agro-enterprise has been working on plant and seed selection, mainly with corn and sunflower.

Today, the Group employs in France 25 people, 120 in Chile. And it has 1% of the market for corn and sunflower seeds in Europe, which is the more stable and profitable of all markets. The company has registered over a hundred varieties of corn and sunflower seeds in Europe, the Middle East, and South America.

Ten years ago, PANAM started a breeding program with chia (Salvia Hispanica L). The little seed has been known, mainly in Mexico and Guatemala since Pre-Colombian times, for its high nutritional value. “After dedicated work, we selected the ORURO® variety, a chia seed with early flowering that allows production in temperate regions,” said Frederic Poujaud, who is also the general manager at AGROFÜN, the sister firm of the Poujaud Group that will be responsible for the commercialization of the chia seed.

“ORURO® is a stable and homogeneous variety selected to bloom in long summer days,” said Mr. Poujaud. This seed variety contains a high density of essential fatty acids, and offers a stable quality, with 18% of linoleic acid (Omega-6) and 63% of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Omega-3. ORURO® seeds are also rich in protein (21%),” said Mr. Poujaud. The nutritional content for every production may vary slightly based on weather conditions and soil.

“ORURO® has been obtained with traditional breeding, not with chemical mutations,” said Mr. Poujaud. It is protected since 2013 in the European Union at the Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO). The composition of the ORURO® variety is substantially identical to the chia described in the Commission Decision 2009/827/CE, authorizing on 22 February 2016 the placing on the European market as a novel food ingredient under Regulation (EC) No 258/97 of the European Parliament and of the Council. The ORURO® variety is protected in the USA through USDA, allowing AGROFÜN to sell it in the US and Canada.

“Since 2013 we have been producing around 40 to 50 Ha for experimental farming practice,” said Mr. Poujaud. “Now we are starting a larger production. In 2017 it will reach 500 Ha or more.” ORURO® is a frost sensible spring crop, planted in April and harvested mainly in September and October.

What advantages present the ORURO® seeds now cultivated in France? They are non-GMO, can grow following organic farming methods, have limited needs of irrigation and do not require pesticide crop protection,” says Mr. Poujaud. This culture newly introduced to Europe provides an alternative to the classic culture that has been grown not only in Mexico and Central America, but more recently also in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and in Australia. AGROFÜN ensures the traceability of the ORURO® variety from the producer to the buyer. “Production of chia seeds in France reduces the carbon footprint and the environmental impact and allows us to deliver the seeds faster and on time,” said Mr. Poujaud.

Chia has been in high demand in Europe, North America, Australia and Asia, encouraging over production. As result, market low prices have caused significant losses and bankruptcies to small producers in countries like Uruguay and Bolivia. “Many food producers lose it all when buyers enjoy a high offer.” To avoid this situation AGROFÜN is developing its activity securing contracts with buyers, to ensure growing conditions, price stability and the possibility for producers and buyers to plan their business. “Facing the growing demand of chia seeds, establishing production contracts allow us to provide a seed of a stable quality at an established price on a regular basis,” said Mr. Poujaud. AGROFÜN and PANAM Semences have started the 2017 contracting season of ORURO® chia seeds produced in France for deliveries in November.

AGROFÜN has accepted a call for innovative projects launched by the Regional government and financed by the European Committee. It is a three-year public-private chia project that involves different local stakeholders, eager to develop a chia pool of competence in the south of France. The University of Toulouse, The National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), a public organization under the responsibility of the French Ministry of Education and Research; the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), firms experienced in seed oil extraction, a laboratory involved in development of cosmetics and even a study to research the impact of chia seeds against colon cancer, will be part of an ambitious program to get chia seeds to more tables in France and the rest of Europe. “This opportunity will allow development of more products based on chia,” said Mr. Poujaud. “We are already in discussions to launch a chia beverage made in France. Everything now is happening very fast.”

 This joint initiative will encourage research on the health effects of chia and open additional opportunities. The launch of the project will take place in Villemur on 1 February. Mr. Poujaud will also be at BioFach meeting with interested chia buyers this coming February 15-18.