The new Roquette pea processing plant in Portage la Prairie is expected to be a boon for Manitoba farmers and the agricultural industry.
Manitoba Pulse and Soy Bean Growers executive director Daryl Domitruk said the opening of the Roquette plant will impact the industry in several different ways.
“We’ve seen our pea acres increase in response to the contracts that Roquette has been offering. Farmers have taken those up because they obviously see that as a way to make money,” Domitruk said.
The plant has prompted provincial pea producers to push the market forward, he said, adding that other provinces including Alberta and Saskatchewan have invested heavily in the development of pulse crops while Manitoba has not done so to the same extent prior to the announcement of the plant.
These investments will present opportunities in value-added processing that will accrue benefits for the province, he said, while at the same time increasing the production of legumes like peas and soybeans serving as a way to combat climate change.
“We’re really reducing the carbon footprint of crop production by expanding the growth of peas and soybeans,” Domitruk said. “We think the time is perfect. Win-wins are now in front of us, to reduce carbon footprints and also generate jobs and economic activity through the value-added processing of these legumes.”
Demand for pea protein has been growing — multiple industry estimates expect an annual global growth rate of between 15 and 24 per cent in the next decade.
Portage la Prairie was chosen as the site for the Roquette plant because the region produces the most peas in the world, the city is close to Winnipeg and has easy access to the United States — shortening supply chains and securing access to a high-quality product.
The 200,000-square-foot plant in Portage can process 125,000 tons of yellow peas per year. When combined with Roquette’s plant in France, the company’s capacity now rises to 250,000 tons of peas per year.
The plant sits on 60 acres in Portage, and the facility is looking to expand in regards to future production on an available 200 acres they have purchased.
The plant offers another market for crops grown by producers — an important step because Manitoba has not been a big producer of yellow peas for several decades, Domitruk said.
Manitoba is becoming a place to invest in these kinds of facilities, and the hope is the new plant marks the start of a new trend in the province. Domitruk said it could be the first step for rolling out new markets in the province and delivery opportunities.
“The more the better from the farm perspective,” Domitruk said.
He added the opening of the MERIT Functional Foods Corporation plant in Winnipeg serves as another example of the growing greens economy taking root in the province — a promising trend from the farm perspective.
He said Roquette and farmers have a joint interest in building resiliency into the production of crops to help ensure the industry can continue to thrive.
The company has made a significant investment in the province, and it will be doing everything it can to ensure the continued flow of peas and raw materials into the plant.
From a farmer’s perspective, they want to see the same thing, Domitruk said.
“We don’t want to plant crops to have them fail and succumb to the impacts of extreme weather,” Domitruk said. “We at Manitoba Pulse and Soy Bean Growers have made some significant investments in plant breeding, agronomy and other areas to build resiliency and Roquette has also made some investments.”
He added the organization is working on some small programs to ensure the quality of peas, marking the start of promising collaborative opportunities to build resiliency.
The industry is already grappling with extreme weather and will be forced to for years to come. For example, growers saw a reduced yield of peas in 2021 due to the drought on the Prairies. The crops also face the threat of excess moisture. Peas are not adapted to wet fields and will encounter this and come up with ways to prevent damage.
Domitruk added they are seeing the introduction of new pulse crops in the province that in the future may be of interest to companies like Roquette. He cited fava beans as an example — the crop is receiving a lot of attention as an up and comer and could see the landscape shared between peas, soybeans and fava beans as sources for plant protein.
The value-added processing ventures associated with these crops will create significant waves of employment opportunities, he said. The province is going to see ongoing employment not only from work at the plant but in its construction and ongoing maintenance. These effects will ripple out and also benefit trucking and transportation.
“A lot of people in the rural communities will no somebody who is either working for Roquette or working in a business that is associated with Roquette,” Domitruk said.
The Portage plant alone will have a full staff of 120 — 114 positions have already been filled.
“It is an exciting time, but that feeling is tempered by the challenges that lay before the industry — it cannot just stop at having the plant. [We] need to continue to nurture growth to ensure the production of peas is sustained into the future.”
It will require a significant investment of money, time and effort, he said.
“It is exciting, but we’re also taking a very sober approach to it. We’ve got a lot of years of nose-to-the-grindstone work to do to keep up the momentum and to sustain these industries,” Domitruk said. “It’s not automatic. We’ll have to really make sure we’re investing right and doing the right things to keep this momentum going.”
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun