Major investment coming to Strathmore

·5 min read

Calgary-based company Phyto Organix has announced it will soon be establishing a $225 million plant protein processing facility in Strathmore.

During a press conference May 24, Phyto Organix announced it has executed a letter of intent to purchase 15 acres of land from the Western Irrigation District to use as the location for the new facility.

President and CEO of Phyto Organix, Chris Theal, said he and his company have been working towards the announcement for over a year and are excited to be pulling the trigger.

Strathmore Mayor Pat Fule said there has not been much public discussion until now, as much of the details were under embargo, and Strathmore was not the only municipality under consideration for the facility.

“There were a lot of in-camera discussions because we were in competition with another major city, so we had to keep everything in a quiet, confidential (conversation),” he said.

The facility will be developed to use proprietary wet fractionation technology to annually process 40,000 metric tonnes of yellow peas into protein isolates, processed fibre and starch, and dietary pea hull fibre.

“When you look at yellow pea production in Western Canada, there is about four to 4.5 million metric tons a year, about 40 per cent of that is in Alberta, yet we don’t have any wet fractionation value out of processing in the province,” said Theal. “When you really drill down into where the pea heartland is, it’s really Wheatland County (and) Vulcan County.”

Phyto Organix has also received $1 million over two years, which was cost-shared by the federal and provincial governments through the Canadian Agriculture Partnership to support the costs of engineering, and the purchase of equipment for the facility.

According to Theal, Strathmore was an ideal location for the facility due to its proximity to more than 200,000 tonnes of yellow peas grown annually within 75 kilometres of the land intended for purchase.

“It’s right in pea country, and from the perspective of working with a municipality, (Strathmore has) been a great municipality to work with and collaborate on making a great business decision to come here,” he said.

The 100,000 square foot facility will be the first of its kind in North America. In addition to its annual yield of product, the facility will be constructed to be emissions net zero.

Phyto Organix is currently engaged with several companies making use of the same technologies, including SiccaDania A/S, a Denmark-based global leader in protein extraction technology.

Also among Phyto Organix’s partners include Bird Construction and GHD Engineering, which are, according to a release, leaders in the construction and development of food and processing facilities in Canada.

Theal explained he intends for the new facility to solve some of the major problems typically experienced with protein alternatives to dairy and white meats.

“When you look at protein isolate production and what exists in the northern US and Canada, they either solve the functionality part, or they solve the sensory issues, (being) the bitter taste, the smell, and the yellow hue of the protein isolate,” he said. “It’s a proprietary technology that removes certain non-nutritional components that at the end of the day, you don’t have that bitter taste (or) that bitter smell.”

Among the aspects of the project which Theal said piqued the interest of the Town of Strathmore, was the “sustainability pedigree” the facility promises to boast.

Theal added once operational, the facility will recycle and reuse 75 per cent of the water necessary for processing.

“We’ve got redundancy in terms of waste heat recapture on the wet process side … and above all, we’re going to run the facility on renewable power,” he said. “It really is about technology and sustainability. At the end of the day, what we’re going to create, which is a first in North America, is the opportunity for the consumer-packaged goods companies that are buying our protein isolate starch and fiber to be able to label the product as sustainably processed food.”

Water recycling was a key component.

“One of the first worries we had was the water usage, but they are very sure in what they are saying as far as water recycling,” added Fule. “They are going to recycle between 75 and 80 per cent of the water (that they use), so that is a huge thing for us.”

As far as job creation goes, construction will see roughly 300 jobs created for the duration of the nearly two-year process. Upon completion, the release details intent to have 60 people employed at the facility.

Local positions are projected to add $7 million of direct employment to the community, and the facility is expected to bring in $120 million of direct annual GDP for Alberta.

Fule added having Phyto Organix operating locally presents an excellent opportunity for local employment, as well as community engagement.

“We heard in the election campaign of 2021 that people were really looking for a chance for jobs and employment, so our strategic planning session talked bout how we can move Strathmore into the future and agriculture,” said Fule. “Phyto Organix wanted to be a real community member, so we look forward to them being able to support some of our groups like FCSS in town.”

Theal said this facility is only Phase 1 of what he intends to ultimately become a quarter-billion dollar GDP impact for Alberta within roughly five years.

“This is really Phase 1 of our business in Strathmore,” said Theal. “The easiest thing we can do is expand the capacity over time. (There) is lots of feedstock supply regionally, and what we truly want to create in Strathmore is an agri-business and innovation hub.”

Currently ground is expected to be broken this fall, with construction scheduled to take between 20 and 22 months to complete. Initial output from the facility is expected to release in mid-2024.

John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times

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