Protein industry initiative gains steam as projects loom

The Pulse Industries Canada super cluster says it hopes to soon announce funding for the first of its research projects

Pulse Industries Canada (PIC) is on track to fund its first industry-led projects in early 2019.

In a late December interview, PIC chief executive officer Bill Greuel said the first applications for project funding will be evaluated and selected early in the New Year.

The inaugural recipients of PIC funding are likely to be announced before the end of March, he added.

“Hopefully, PIC will be in a position to fund some projects in the first quarter of 2019,” Greuel said.

“We’re looking forward, in the New Year, to start working with some of our member companies and with industry to start to … (identify) projects for funding.”

Pulse Industries Canada was one of five groups to receive a share of $950 million in federal money under the Innovation Superclusters Program.

All told, PIC will receive $153 million over five years — money that will be distributed to individual projects aimed increasing the value of protein contained in unprocessed agricultural crops and commodities.

Stakeholders in the western Canadian pulse crop industry are expected to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of PIC funding.

The proteins contained in pulse crops such as peas, lentils and chickpeas are of less value when sold as bulk, unprocessed commodities.

Through value-added processing, the same crops can be broken down into higher valued components such as protein, starch and fibre and sold into specialty ingredient markets.

In late 2018, PIC announced that Bob Tyler, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, will serve as PIC’s interim chief technology officer.

Tyler will be in charge of developing a template for project selection and evaluating funding applications.

In early November, PIC signed its formal contribution agreement with Ottawa.

Greuel called that a milestone event that will allow PIC to begin distributing money to companies and organizations involved.

PIC will take a “full-value chain approach” to building a more valuable protein industry in Canada, Greuel added.

Successful funding applicants will fall into four general areas.

The four areas of focus are plant breeding and genetics, primary crop production, value-added processing techniques and market development.

“If you’re a company that has a footprint in any of those sectors along the value chain, you potentially could be a partner with Protein Industries Canada,” Greuel said.

In plant breeding and genetics, plant breeders whose work is focused on increasing the protein content or protein quality in agricultural crops would be an ideal fit, as would research aimed at altering the protein-to-fibre ratio in field crops.

Under primary production, Greuel cited projects that promote higher yields and elevated protein content, as well as the use of new technologies, and sustainable growing practices.

He declined to say whether PIC funding would result in protein premiums for farmers who produce crops containing higher levels of protein.

Ultimately, the value of the protein contained in agricultural crops will be determined by the marketplace, he said.

Carl Potts, executive director of Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, said the momentum built by Pulse Industries Canada should deliver long-term benefits to pulse growers in Saskatchewan and across the West.

“Right now, we are very highly concentrated in just a handful of markets, particularly for yellow peas and red lentils,” Potts said.

“ I think one of (our) goals … is to have a more diversified market base with more demand from the North American ingredient industry.”

In addition to building new, higher-valued markets, it’s likely that western Canadian pulse growers will eventually be rewarded for producing crops that have higher protein levels, Potts added.

“Protein is certainly not the only fraction (contained in pulse crops) but it’s the leading fraction in terms of value,” he said.

“If you’re producing more protein per acre or more protein per tonne … then the end-use customer is getting more value out of that crop….”

“So, I foresee a time when growers are provided with incentives to grow higher protein varieties because the value of that protein in very significant.”

Currently, farmers who grow and sell pulse crops are generally not rewarded for higher protein content.

However, pea fractionation companies are generally more inclined to buy peas with above-average protein levels.

“As of right now, growers aren’t being paid on the basis of protein but I can see, as these new markets develop, how that is likely to change over time,” Potts said.

Protein premiums likely won’t be offered by all buyers, he added.

That’s because many buyers who source Canadian-grown peas and lentils sell them into staple food markets.

However, value-added processors might be more inclined to pay for protein.

“When you get into protein fractionation and ingredient utilization, there may be good reason that some customers would be willing to pay more for certain varieties … or for higher protein content.”

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