Film director Cameron backing Saskatchewan organic pea plant

A major new pulse plant has set up shop southwest of Saskatoon with plans to help back development of pulse-based foods and mentor organic growers — and bringing with it a pair of unusually high-profile investors.

Verdient Foods on Monday announced the opening of a pulse food processing plant at Vanscoy, Sask., with plans for gradual capacity increases to over 160,000 tonnes as the facility takes on “additional product lines.”

However, what brought the unusually heavy media coverage to Monday’s announcement was the plant’s operating company, PMC Management, which manages several processing ventures spearheaded by film director James Cameron and his wife Suzy Amis Cameron.

Cameron, originally from northern Ontario, is best known as the director of films such as The Terminator, Avatar and Aliens, while Amis Cameron has acted in films such as The Usual Suspects and Cameron’s Titanic.

The financial terms of the Camerons’ investment in Verdient, in partnership with Saskatoon-based PIC Investment Group and Whitecap Dakota First Nation, were not released Monday.

Verdient on Monday also announced it has signed a four-year research contract with the Saskatoon-based Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre, working with other food companies to develop value-added organic products using Verdient’s pulse ingredients.

The Food Centre, a not-for-profit partnership between the province, the Saskatchewan Food Processors Association and the University of Saskatchewan, includes pulse processing among its specialties, helping develop products for uses such as meat and cheese substitutes, baking ingredients, breakfast cereals and nutritional bars.

Verdient said it expects the plant to become the largest organic pea protein fractionation plant in North America once fully operational. The company plans to use “dry” fractionation to isolate and concentrate protein, starch and fibre from pulse crops for use in specialty flours and other products.

The Camerons said Monday they also plan to work with Saskatchewan farmers in a mentorship program to “provide a profitable structure to keep younger generations of Canadian farmers engaged in organic farming.”

“For years, we’ve been on a mission to help the world eat healthy food grown by farmers who have chosen to farm organically,” said Amis Cameron.

The Camerons’ related ventures include the Plant Power Task Force campaign; Muse School, a Los Angeles-based private school devoted to “eco-literacy;” the Red Carpet Green Dress fashion campaign; and Food Forest Organics, a New Zealand market supplied by Cameron Family Farms in the Wairarapa region.

PIC Investment Group’s portfolio also includes stakes in water treatment company ClearTech, hydroponic greenhouse firm Ecobain Gardens, mustard processor MPT and Saskatoon-based Prairie Plant Systems. CEO Greg Yuel said PIC’s “long-term perspective matches our partner in this opportunity perfectly.”

The Verdient plant also won’t be the only pulse player in Vanscoy, which since 1995 has been home to lentil and canary seed processor and exporter Prairie Pulse, northeast of the Verdient site on Highway 7.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, attending Monday’s announcement, said “the Camerons’ decision to move forward with this project in Saskatchewan is a tribute to the province’s grain producers, our growing food processing industry, and our world-leading research community.” — Network

Tiffany Dancho and Pam Bailey don’t think machinery should just be for men. Two of the lead voices behind Ag Women Manitoba, Dancho and Bailey set off for Neepawa and the group’s inaugural combine clinic July 13 in the hopes of getting women more comfortable in the cab. “I’ve been in equipment for 10-plus years, gone to farms, and the stigma against women in machinery is massive,” said Dancho, a product development program manager with MacDon Industries. The July 13 event, followed by a tour of the nearby Farmery Estate Brewery, was one of the first Ag Women Manitoba, which incorporated this spring. Female farmers are on the rise, according to the last census. As of 2016, 28.7 per cent of farm operators were female, compared to 27.4 per cent five years before. Over seven per cent of farms were exclusively female run, still minor compared to the over 60 per cent that had no women at the helm, but up from 2011 and more than double the numbers from 1991. Statistics Canada noted the number of female farmers in general has been increasing since the early ’90s. Most young farmers are still men, who alone head over 68 per cent of the farms with operators under 35, but the growth in the small number of female-only farms in the same age bracket is far outpacing the men (113.3 per cent over 2011, compared to 24.4 per cent for the guys). But while women have slowly taken up more of the farm demographic, Dancho and Bailey say learning opportunities have not kept up, something that planted the seeds for Ag Women Manitoba. The pair took their cue from a women’s mentorship program at the University of Manitoba’s faculty of agriculture. As mentors, they saw the need for more connection and education among farm women. “You found all of these career women and all of these academic women, all of these farm women who wanted to sit and share and talk business, talk combines, talk families, talk challenges… so we found we were literally shutting the place down every time,” said Bailey, who is both a farmer and director with the Manitoba Canola Growers. The organization soon began drawing from support from other organizations, including the Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference and farm women’s organizations outside the province, and began plans for its own events this year. Fixing, but not operating Machinery was an immediate priority. Many existing clinics are geared for service, Dancho said, while many women are more concerned with the on-field realities such as ensuring that your header’s feeding properly. “What do you do when it plugs?” she said. “What are some tips and tricks that you can look for and watch for in order to make sure that when you go through you don’t have to worry about hitting the reverser or getting out and disconnecting the header and reaching in with your hands to unplug the combine?” Dancho saw her chance after contacting Rocky Mountain Equipment in Neepawa earlier this summer. The dealership was having its own combine clinic July 13, and the women’s group was welcome to join. While the agenda was already set with more of a focus on service, the group has tentative plans for a regional tour next year including multiple companies and tailored more to operation. “How to operate, what to look for, things like that,” Dancho said. “Because they might not necessarily have to worry about pulling sieves and servicing, but they’re going to be looking more on the operations side and, ‘What should I notice? What should I look for to get a clean sample?’ This was just a good way to cut our teeth and get something going midsummer.” Reaching smaller centres Ag Women Manitoba is also considering similar events for women who may not be able to travel to larger urban centres. “Other organizations might stick to Winnipeg, Portage and Brandon and we’re really hoping to get out to those other locations like Neepawa, like Dauphin, like Steinbach, like Winkler and a lot of those other places,” Bailey said. “By having (events) in these small communities, they might not have all the bells and whistles, but we have the knowledge; we have the experiences; we have the other women there who can share stories and help support women along the way.” The organization also has plans for Ag Days next year. The group hopes to see a breakfast and panel next January, drawing from a mix of women who work both on and off the farm and have varying roles in the farm operation.


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