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Protein Industries Canada lays out ambitious plans

Its goal is making Canada the world’s preferred source for plant-based protein

Like the weather, everybody talks about ‘value added’ in Western Canada, but nobody does anything about it.

Until now.

Protein Industries Canada (PIC) says it’s going to make Western Canada a global leader in plant protein as an ingredient in human food and livestock feed.

With world population on the rise both are in increasing demand.

The pan-Prairie, industry-led alliance of more than 120 private sector companies, universities, colleges, and other stakeholders across the West and elsewhere, was one of five ‘superclusters’ to win millions of dollars in federal government funding in February to help bolster Canada’s economy.

In addition to $153 million in federal funds to be awarded over five years, PIC has raised $280 million of ‘in-kind’ contributions from the industry and $150 million to set up a new-venture capital fund called Emmer TechVenture Capital.

Unlike traditional funding clusters, based on one crop with a focus on variety and market development, PIC involves multiple crops, including pulses, canola and hemp.

Its scope is wider too, including the development of new products and technologies, PIC’s new CEO Bill Greuel, said in an interview Oct. 4 during PIC’s ‘Thought Leaders Summit’ in Winnipeg.

Two-hundred and eight delegates were registered for the two-day meeting.

To reach its objective PIC says post-secondary institutions will have to provide the new employees and entrepreneurs the sector needs to not only breed new varieties and develop new ingredients, but invent the digital platforms all along the value chain.

If PIC succeeds it will help generate an estimated $853 million in new commercial activity, add $15 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) and create 50,000 jobs.

PIC’s headquarters will be in Regina, but it will also have offices in Manitoba and Alberta.

Part of its job is to break down provincial, academic and commercial silos and encourage collaboration and competition, PIC chair Frank Hart told the summit.

PIC will establish an independent committee to select projects to fund.

PIC will also identify areas of research, including fixing the slide in protein levels in crops such as soybeans and canola.

Disrupters should apply, Hart said

“We’re in a world of disruption in this area already,” he said. “If we don’t ride the disruption we’ll lose. We’re going to get disrupted if we stay in the commodities business. It’s just going to get harder and harder to make money in the business and we’re going to be finding ourselves competing with Kazakhstan, which we already are, and pulses in China. We’re never going to win that game so we have to move up the value chain.

“We’ve got to find the disrupters and encourage them or we won’t be successful.”

Farmers will also be key.

“We know that at the end of the day if we can’t make a profitable business out of something it’s probably not worth doing,” Hart said.

Having domestic processors to deliver to also reduces some of the risks farmers face, including poor rail transportation and market access, Greuel said.

Keith Jones, general manager of Rowland Farms, a 40,000-acre organic crops producer in Alberta, told the summit his organic peas shipped to China just dropped 10 per cent in price due to Donald Trump’s trade war.

Jones’ peas are being fractionated in China and the protein and starch exported to Canada to be used in food products here.

“If we can get value added in Canada to serve these high-value markets it’s going to benefit farms, it’s going to benefit communities, it’s going to benefit our local economies so it’s really important to do that,” Jones said.

All Western Canada can benefit from PIC’s initiative, Carlos Dade of the Canada West Foundation told the summit.

“The opportunity comes along, as you saw with demand, once in a lifetime,” he said. “This is our opportunity to seize it and we really have to be ready.

“We’ve been waiting forever for something like this to come on the Prairies. It’s finally here and it’s time that we have the ambition to match the opportunity.”

PIC is looking for 450 members from throughout the value chain, including farm organizations, Hart said. Memberships will cost large organizations $5,000 and small ones $500.

Members will be able to apply for money to fund projects, obtain information, find partners and to influence the plant protein industry, Hart said.

PIC hopes to grant some project funding before March 31, 2019 and even more in the 2019-20 fiscal year, he said.

PIC’s annual meeting will be held in June. A slate of eight directors will be up for election to replace the interim board, Hart said.

PIC’s board will be gender balanced. Three more women are needed for the board, Hart said.

PIC’s eight elected board members will appoint four independent directors, he said.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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