BRANDON — Building a $400 million factory takes time.
And when the temperature drops to -37 C, construction can grind to a halt.
Despite the chilly temperatures this January, Roquette hopes to open its pea processing facility in Portage la Prairie in about 22 months.
“Our current projection … is Q4 (quarter four) of 2020,” said John Buch, raw materials manager with Roquette, who spoke at Manitoba Ag Days late last month in Brandon.
Roquette, a private firm based in France, announced it would build a $400 million pea processing plant in January 2017 and broke ground at its site, west of Portage la Prairie, in September 2017.
The plant was supposed to be operational in 2019, but postponements and delays have pushed back the opening date.
When it reaches full capacity, the plant will require about 125,000 tonnes of yellow peas, or about 125,000 acres.
“We will likely be contracting (production) later this fall for the 2020 crop,” Buch said.
“We’ll likely be looking at production contracts and other possibilities to meet the demand of the plant.”
For now, Manitoba doesn’t have enough peas to supply Roquette. The province had 67,000 acres in 2017 and 84,000 acres in 2018.
Dennis Lange, Manitoba Agriculture pulse specialist, said a number of producers may shift out of soybeans and plant peas this year because soybean yields were below average the last two years.
“We’re probably going to see a slight increase (in peas) … maybe upwards of a 100,000,” he said.
Farmers who want to produce for Roquette will need to follow certain guidelines.
The company wants its suppliers to grow peas sustainably.
“We have a target in mind.… by 2025 that 20 percent of our raw materials supplies will be sustainable,” Buch said.
“What we’re after is a sustainable approach to the pea procurement.. We want to meet the consumer demand and what they’re after, and to do this responsibly and sustainably.”
To accomplish that goal, Roquette will develop an identity preserved system for its suppliers because traceability is needed to prove sustainability claims.
The company already operates a pea processing plant in Vic sur Aisne, France.
The Portage plant will fractionate peas into starch, fibre, hull, protein and solubles and then sell the components into numerous markets, including human nutrition, pet foods and pharmaceuticals.
Following Buch’s presentation at Ag Days, a grower asked why Roquette chose Portage la Prairie for its processing plant. Saskatchewan usually has more than two million acres of peas, while Manitoba has less than 100,000.
“This is a question we often get,” Buch said.
He then listed a number of factors behind the decision:
• the sustainability of hydro-electric power in Manitoba
• a skilled workforce in Portage and Winnipeg
• the proximity to the border, for exporting to the United States
As well, pea acres in Manitoba can expand to supply the plant.
Lange thinks 300,000 acres is possible, sometime in the future.
“It’s kind of my number, based on where we’ve been in the past,” he said.
“There are lots of other companies that buy in Manitoba for these (pea) protein markets.”