Farmers weighing the balance on Roquette pea contracts

The upcoming pea protein plant has gained a lot of attention, now farmers are wondering if the premium will be worth the trouble

Farmers now see what Roquette wants in its first yellow pea contracts — and some are questioning whether there is enough bang for the buck to make the crop worthwhile.

The company will be contracting yellow peas for its long-awaited plant in Portage la Prairie this year, ahead of the plant’s planned opening this fall. The pea protein facility has been under construction since 2017.

Roquette previously estimated that the plant will take 125,000 tonnes of peas every year at full capacity. The company has boasted that the Manitoba plant, along with Roquette’s plant in Vic-Sur-Aisne, France, will have the largest combined pea protein capacity in the world.

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Why it matters: Roquette’s plant in Portage la Prairie has promised to be a boon for Manitoba’s pea sector, but are farmers ready to sign on the dotted line?

Growers may have already heard about the company’s moratorium on Reglone, a desiccant that does not yet have an MRL in the U.S. and therefore limits the marketability of peas treated with the chemical. Similarly, the company has said that growers will not be able to turn to glyphosate pre-harvest.

Pre-harvest glyphosate has come under fire in recent years after studies that found traces of the chemical in marketed food made headlines.

The company has also mandated that producers use certified seed, although James Bozikis, Roquette’s head of communications and public affairs in the Americas, says the company will not be requiring specific varieties.

That requirement is not a strange one, Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers (MPSG) executive director Francois Labelle said, although the supply of certified seed may raise some challenge. Certified seed production has fallen off in Manitoba, he noted.

Last year, the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) reported just over 7,700 acres of pedigreed field peas.

“I think if you go far enough away you’ll be able to find it,” Labelle said. “In other words, if you go into Saskatchewan you’d be able to find more certified seed… It might be tight; it might not be.”

Roquette will also be staying close to home for its first year, according to the company. The company has said only farmers within about 4-1/2 hours of the plant will be tapped for contracts, cutting out a large area of Saskatchewan’s pea-growing regions.

MASC reported just over 104,000 acres of field peas grown in Manitoba last year, compared to Saskatchewan’s over 1.8 million acres.

Despite the limitation in acreage, Labelle suggests that there will be more than enough peas to go around when the plant opens its doors.

“You could be drawing peas from North Dakota and you could almost draw as far west as Regina, so it is a big area,” he said. “I’d say that within that area, there’s no problem finding the peas that they need.”

Bozikis said Roquette will only be contracting a portion of what it will need in a full production year, given that the plant is still under construction and not set to open until late 2020.

Is it enough?

The company’s list of requirements has led to some doubts from producers.

The company is offering a $1-per-bushel premium, according to Bozikis — 70 cents for traceability and sustainability, and 30 cents as a new-grower premium.

“Our goal is to build sustainable long-term relationships with pea producers,” Bozikis said. “We are offering a premium above base market values for growers to follow our identity-preserved production system, including the completion of in-crop traceability reports.”

Some producers have since taken to Twitter, suggesting that increased input costs may dim their enthusiasm for the offer, or that traceability requirements may be too onerous for the perceived benefit.

“Not much left from $1 a bushel if you have to buy certified seed and only get a 50 bpa (bushel per acre) crop,” Blake Duchek of Esterhazy, Sask., posted.

Farms contracting for Roquette will also need an environmental farm plan starting in 2021, although the company is encouraging their growers to have a valid certificate this year. The Manitoba government previously added a yellow pea chapter to the provincial environmental farm plan protocols, which farmers must complete, Roquette has said.

Added to that, last year representatives from the company warned growers to be wary of contamination from wheat or soybeans, something that could become an issue for anyone intercropping or cover cropping.

When asked, Bozikis did not seem concerned about the attractiveness of the offer.

“We feel the premium levels are adequate, and contracting in Manitoba and Saskatchewan is positive as a result,” he said.

Labelle says MPSG has not heard much member response “one way or the other,” on Roquette’s growing requirements.

The company presented its program during a recent MPSG seminar event.

“At the meeting we had in Portage, growers were interested in talking to them,” Labelle said. “I don’t know if people have signed contracts or not.”

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

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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