Fababean research gets boost

Fababeans could move from being a theoretical favourite to a significant crop with $19.1 million in new research money.

That’s what pulse protein processor Roquette and Protein Industries Canada hope.

Getting fababean (also known as fava beans) protein into the growing plant protein market is “an exciting and emerging opportunity for Canadian agriculture,” said Hailey Jeffries, who operates Prairie Fava in Glenboro, Man.

The money, which includes a bit more than 50 percent from Prairie Fava and Roquette and the rest from PIC, will be used on a wide spectrum of fababean research, from variety development and agronomics to processing, product development and amino acid profiling.

Fababeans produce a high quality protein by themselves, but Dominique Baumann of Roquette said the focus will be on developing blends of fava and pea protein that “brings the opportunity to achieve the optimal amino acid profile.”

Roquette is also looking at rice, oat and mung bean proteins as it develops plant proteins for the quickly expanding global market.

Fababeans have long drawn the eye of researchers and farmers who see the crop’s ability to produce higher levels of plant protein compared to other pulse crops. The crop grows well in Western Canada.

But markets have been hard to find. Few products incorporate fababean protein and little development has occurred until recently.

Jeffries’ company got into the business when her partner’s seed business kept hearing that farmers wanted to grow fababeans, but couldn’t find anywhere to sell the harvested product.

In 2017 Prairie Fava began de-hulling, splitting and packaging fababeans partly as a way of building a market for fababean seed.

Roquette’s decision to build a giant pulse protein plant in Portage la Prairie brought a major source of new pulse protein to the area and the companies began talking.

PIC’s role as the hub of the federally funded “Protein Supercluster” is to fund a minority portion of plant protein development projects with private partners.

Jeffries said for all the potential of fababeans, it’s still far from being a well-developed commercial crop.

Everything from discovering the best growing regions to disease management to shortening the maturity to producing consistent protein levels needs to be studied.

Baumann said the Roquette plant should be in production by the end of 2020.

Prairie Fava will be expanding its processing capacity this summer, Jeffries said.

Fababeans have been talked about for decades with little happening. “It’s still in its infancy, but pea protein was in its infancy 15 years ago,” Baumann said.

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