Pulse fits into a crop rotation, spreads market risk, creates value-added opportunity and not susceptible to Aphanomyces
It’s a crop that grows well in southern Saskatchewan, yields products for three major markets and might have much growth in its future.
But as Nathan Sudom sees his fenugreek processing and marketing company undergo a major expansion, he knows his infant industry will continue to need diligent development.
“We have a lot of irons in the fire,” said Sudom, chief executive officer of Avonlea, Sask.-based Emerald Seed Products. “It looks like demand could be up there pretty soon.”
Canada’s fenugreek industry is tiny, with only a few dozen farmers, a small company and a number of niche products for diverse industries.
Right now, the acreage base of 2,500-5,000 acres produces the fibre and nutritional ingredients that Emerald processes and supplies to the potash mining, human health and animal feed industries. All three areas could see substantial increases in demand.
“We’re trying to find our places where we have niches, where we have a competitive edge,” said Sudom, whose father and a partner began developing the company decades ago along with legendary pulse crop developer Al Slinkard.
While fenugreek fibre was first developed as a component in a dietary supplement for diabetics and is still used as a human health product, it was also found to be a good substance for potash processing.
The fibre is used to help separate potash from materials surrounding it.
“Our competitors are products from China and India,” Sudom said about standard, non-fenugreek substances used for the same purpose.
The boom and bust nature of potash mining, plus the preference of some mining companies for more standard products, has made that market an ongoing challenge for Emerald.
“Once they have their formula they’re reluctant to switch.”
But Sudom is also marketing the fibre product to other mining sectors, including copper-nickel producers.
“I have high hopes for that,” said Sudom. “It’ll let us become diversified.” The human health market remains strong, with fenugreek fibre used to help regulate blood sugar and manage heartburn. That is the primary market for Emerald but it has also developed its own line of consumer products, including Fenuboost and Fenfiber.
“The food market has been steady,” said Sudom. “We’re trying to move up the value chain.”
The company is also marketing fenugreek components into the animal feed market with a product called Nutrifen, which Sudom said is doing well.
The company uses fenugreek from a small number of farmers, most of whom are shareholders in the company, it but hopes to expand that significantly.
Processing capacity is now being expanded so it can leapfrog into bigger markets.
Sudom said he doesn’t think it will be hard to find new farmers as suppliers because fenugreek fits into a rotation and covers a growing problem in other pulse crops.
Aphanomyces, a root rot disease, is devastating many lentil crops but fenugreek isn’t susceptible. By growing fenugreek, farmers can keep a pulse in the rotation while avoiding the disease.
“There aren’t too many crops out there for them to choose,” said Sudom. “They tell us ‘we have nothing else to grow on that land.’”
Emerald’s expansion addresses a problem faced by many small companies when they become successful: to really benefit, they need to expand to many times their original size. That’s why Emerald is adding equipment “much bigger” than it now operates.
“Certain markets require 10 times or 100 times what we produce, so how do we get from where we are to 100 times (that amount of production,)” said Sudom.
“We’re excited to increase our capacity to take advantage of what we think is going to be a good future.”