Pea plant excites sector

A French company may have transformed Canada’s pulse industry.

Roquette, a family firm, announced last week that it will build a $400 million pea processing plant in Portage la Prairie, Man. A company news release said the new plant would be “the largest dedicated to pea protein processing in the world.”

Corey Loessin, chair of Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, said the plant will benefit pulse producers across the Prairies.

“Expanding processing capacity (for) the western Canadian industry is good for everybody, is our view,” he said.

“The market for protein is rising, and it seems like a good opportunity for a company to come in and do more processing on the Prairies.”

Canada grows about 30 percent of the world’s peas and is the world’s largest exporter, sending 70 to 75 percent of production to places such as India, Spain and China.

A major buyer in Portage la Prairie means a larger chunk of production will now be processed in Canada.

“This is huge for the value-added, for the food processing industry…. It will change the industry,” said Francois Labelle, Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers executive director.

“The products they’re going to (produce) and the markets they’re going after are interesting.”

Roquette plans to sell pea protein into what it described as the expanding market for “plant based proteins.”

Pea protein can be used to make high protein energy and snack bars, high protein pancake mix, protein shakes, gluten-free food and soups and sauces.

The U.S. market just for protein and energy bars is worth billions and has been growing at double digits annually.

“The pea protein market is very attractive, and demand for plant proteins for human nutrition is growing tremendously, driven by health consciousness, consumer concerns and sustainability,” Roquette said in its news release.

The $400 million plant will increase demand for western Canadian peas, but a few people in the pulse industry are wondering why it will be built in Manitoba.

Manitoba farmers have grown 50,000 to 165,000 acres of peas a year over the last decade, while Saskatchewan grows two to three million acres.

Industry reps at Manitoba Ag Days in Brandon said cheaper electricity rates in Manitoba and government subsidies may have convinced Roquette to build in Portage. The Manitoba government said it’s providing $6.82 million for the project, mostly for site development.

Labelle, who had dinner with Roquette executives when they came to Manitoba for the announcement, said sustainability was a key factor in the company’s decision.

“(They’re) not necessarily talking about cheap hydro, but sustainability is important for them,” he said.

“As North Americans we do not place the same level of importance on sustainability as the Europeans.”

Roquette has a detailed sustainability policy on its website, including a commitment to a “low environmental footprint.”

Manitoba relies almost entirely on hydro dams for its electricity needs, while Saskatchewan depends largely on coal and natural gas power plants as well as some hydro.

Loessin, who farms near Radisson, Sask., isn’t worried about the Portage location. “A major company like that would have looked at a bunch of factors, in terms of locating their plant,” he said.

Construction of the Portage facility will begin later this year. Roquette expects the plant to open in 2019.

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