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Pea protein under the microscope ahead of Roquette plant in Portage la Prairie

Roquette will begin contracting for its protein-based plant next year. Meanwhile, researchers are on the hunt for ways to bolster protein content in yellow peas

Pea researchers have a new focus on protein as plans for the world’s largest protein-based pea-processing plant move ahead in Portage la Prairie.

The Roquette plant has been big news for Manitoba’s pea industry. In January, the French-based specialty food and pharmaceutical excipient supplier announced $400 million for the plant, expected to employ 150 people and process up to 125,000 tonnes of peas each year, according to Gwenole Pasco, category specialist with Roquette.

“In that plant, we will use a wet milling process in order to separate the protein from the starch and other byproducts of the seeds,” Pasco said.

The plant is Roquette’s latest move into the alternate protein market. The company has already marketed pea-based protein as an option to dairy, soy or meat in specialized diets, vegetarian, meat reducer or vegan lifestyles, health food products and for those with dairy or soy allergies.

The product may also be used for its thickening and binding effects, Pasco said.

Contracting soon

Construction is on track to begin later this year and the plant is expected to open in late 2019 and reach full capacity over the next two years.

Roquette will start contracting pea acres as early as next year, Pasco said, although the exact number of acres is unknown. Moisture guidelines are, likewise, still on the table.

“We would like to develop some new varieties that would be good from the farmer’s point of view, which means a good yield, a good disease resistance, easy for harvest — which means standing well at harvest — and also that is good for the end-user, (which) we are, point of view, which is a high protein level,” Pasco said.

Gwenole Pasco, category specialist with Roquette, says the French company plans to start contracting next year for its soon-to-be-built pea protein plant.
photo: Alexis Stockford

A range of Roquette’s preferred yellow peas were included in Manitoba Agriculture variety trials this year, as well as protein counts along with the usual yield data, Dennis Lange, pulse specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, said.

“We’ve been doing these pea trials for a number of years, but we haven’t really been focusing on protein because the market has maybe required more starch product. Now they’re looking more at the protein side of things,” he said. “We’re trying to have these trials in different locations to see if we’re going to see any environmental differences between growing peas in Morden, Man., versus growing peas in Carberry and seeing what kind of difference we see with some of the different varieties.”

Bucking trends

Lange’s interest is compounded by data showing pea protein content has declined in Western Canada.

The Canadian Grain Commission reports that protein content has been in general decline since at least 2007, according to annual Quality of Western Canadian Peas report.

In 2007, mean protein in western Canadian peas (both yellow and green) peaked at 24.7 per cent, a number that fell to 23.9 per cent by 2010, 23.5 per cent by 2012 and sat at 22.1 per cent by 2016.

In 2016, the commission found mean protein was lower in both No. 1 and No. 2 yellow peas than the year before. No. 1 yellow peas tested at 21.5 per cent mean protein content, 0.4 per cent lower than 2015, while No. 2 yellow peas tested 0.5 per cent lower than the previous year.

“One of the things that we kind of have to address is why that’s happening,” Lange said. “Is it due to environment? Is it due to variety selection? Maybe we’ve been focusing on things like yield and maturity and disease tolerance and protein hasn’t been as high on the merit list as maybe what it should be now, going forward.”

Despite the potential boost to pea acres in Manitoba as Roquette prepares to open its doors, Lange warned against overtightening rotations to make room for the crop.

The pea industry has fought disease pressures in root rot, leading to one-in-five- or one-in-six-year rotations in some areas.

Other areas

Lange also noted that Roquette’s demand will not only be met by Manitoba, but will spread added acres through both Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

“We want to try and have growers be profitable when they’re growing this crop and that’s, I think, one of the big things that we’ve stressed with Roquette, is that you have to be competitive with other crops in your pricing,” he said. “This, I think, is going to be a benefit for all companies here because it’s going to help generate a few more acres in areas that can really grow peas. Hopefully down the road, we’re going to see a large amount of sustainable acres in Manitoba.”

Roquette has raised several regulatory issues ahead of the plant, including concern that commonly used diquat-based desiccants do not have established maximum residue limits (MRLs) in the U.S., one of Roquette’s intended markets, and will not be used on their contracted peas.

“That challenge comes into having good communications with your end-user, whether it’s Roquette or any company,” Lange said. “Over the years we’ve seen, whether it be edible beans or soybeans or wheat or what have you, there have always been new challenges with new chemistries or even existing chemistries and MRL tolerances going into different countries.”

Pasco downplayed the desiccant challenge, citing available substitutes.

Pasco also pointed to less prevalent concerns over soy contamination, since Roquette advertises its protein as non-allergenic, although rotation and harvest timing difference between peas and soybeans largely addresses that concern.

This article first appeared on Country Guide.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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