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, Man.
Last January, Roquette, a French specialty food and pharmaceutical supplier, announced construction of the $400-million plant, expected to employ 150 people and process up to 125,000 tonnes of peas each year.
In an interview last summer, Gwenole Pasco, a category specialist with Roquette, said the plant will use a wet-milling process to separate the protein from the starch and other byproducts of the seeds.
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 Roquette will start contracting pea acres as early as this year, although the exact number of acres is unknown.
“We would like to develop some new varieties that would be good from the farmer’s point of view, which means a good yield, good disease resistance, easy for harvest — which means standing well at harvest — and also that is good for the end-user, (which) from our point of view is a high protein level,” Pasco said.
A range of Roquette’s preferred yellow peas were included in Manitoba Agriculture variety trials last year, with protein counts along with the usual yield data, Manitoba Agriculture pulse specialist Dennis Lange told a field day at Carberry, Man., last summer.
“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.”
The Canadian Grain Commission reports that protein content has been in general decline since at least 2007, according to the 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 in 2010, 23.5 per cent in 2012 and sat at 22.1 per cent in 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 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 over-tightening rotations to make room for the crop.
He 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.”