Prairie farmers can strive for protein powerhouse crown

The huge investment in pea processing in Western Canada announced in the past year signals that enormous change is in the works for the pulse industry.

A market until now largely focused on supplying ingredients to specific national cuisines is about to expand universally with pulse protein going into a wide range of foods consumed around the world.

Western Canada is ideally suited to pulse production, so this expansion of processing and markets is excellent news.

However, to remain at the forefront, the industry here must ensure that the varieties it grows and the crop manage-ment it uses match what the market wants.

The most recent processing an-nouncement came with Hollywood flair as director James Cameron and his wife were on hand for the opening of the Verdient Foods plant at Vanscoy, Sask., a venture in which they invested.

However, that is just the latest devel-opment. French company Roquette had its groundbreaking Sept. 28 on a $400 million plant at Portage la Prairie, Man. Canadian Protein Innovation, a German owned company, plans to build in Moose Jaw, Sask., and W.A. Grain and Pulse Solutions is expanding at Bowden, Alta.

The first to invest was AGT Foods of Regina, the dominant player in the Can-adian pulse market, with a fractionation facility in North Dakota in 2013.

All these plants use processing technologies to produce flours, proteins, starches and fibres to go into a range of products, including pasta, noodles, snacks, candy, vegetable coatings and meat replacements.

A rough calculation puts the processing capacity of the plants announced for Canada at about 750,000 tonnes, which would be the third biggest market for Canadian peas, behind India and China.

The outlook for plant protein demand growth is stunning. The vegetarian community is only the tip of the iceberg.

Soy protein is already a widely used ingredient. Peas could play the same role better because they are less of an allergen than soy.

Many consumers wish to reduce their intake of animal protein but still want the taste of meat.

Roquette calls this trend flexitarianism. It creates pea products that mimic meat to combine with real meat in processed products that are 30 percent plant content. This will also help meet, with a smaller environmental footprint than livestock, the expected expanding protein demand from the growing middle classes of developing countries.

Pulses’ nutritional benefits are complemented by a great environmental story. They fix their own nitrogen, improve the biodiversity of the soil and break the cycle of disease and other pests. And they are water efficient.

All this is positive for farmers.

A broader market should reduce the boom and bust of demand and provide steadier prices. The amount of crop shipped by rail to port will be reduced, cutting farmers’ transportation costs.

However, to fully capitalize on the potential, Canada must be attuned to what the market wants. The breeding program will have to prioritize protein levels. The reason behind the 10-year trend of falling protein will have to be determined and reversed.

Desiccant products must be inter-nationally approved.

As these details receive the proper attention, Canada will be crowned a protein powerhouse.

Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod, D’Arce McMillan and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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