Agriculture has long been one of western Canada’s strengths. With abundant land and water resources, good access to international markets and a reputation for reliable supply, the region has established itself as a major commodity exporter.
Today, the region is increasingly focused on producing a diverse range of value-added ingredients to meet consumer demand for plant protein and deliver sustainable, reduced carbon solutions for manufacturers.
Land of opportunity
“Canada has about a third of the crop land of the US with about 10% of the US population,” explains Hart, who will be presenting presentation online during Fi Europe 2022, which will be held 28 November to 8 December.
“This makes the region able to export much more of its production than it consumes domestically.”
Furthermore, Canada has about 20% of the world’s supply of freshwater, a third of which is easily accessible for agriculture. In a world of uncertainty and supply chain interruptions, this is a valuable resource to support world food production.
The country has also historically been able to offer ingredients manufacturers a diverse range of crops.
“Canada has always had a strong commitment to crop diversity,” says Hart. “It maintains an inventory of over 115 000 different samples of cultivated plant species and their wild relatives in its seed germplasm bank, including samples from across the globe.”
As a result, Canada’s commercial crop production is typically three to five times more diverse than other growing regions in the Western Hemisphere. While this creates unique challenges for Canada’s grain handling system, it is also an advantage for ingredient processers who need access to a wider variety of crops.
Plant-based protein demand
Despite these advantages, Canadian agriculture still needs to adapt and respond to current pressures and concerns. There is a growing global consensus that we need to reduce our dependence on animal-based proteins as the key means of feeding a growing global population. This means that developing efficient methods for growing, extracting and processing plant-based protein have become priorities.
This demand for plant-based products is largely being driven by consumers looking for dietary solutions that are healthier and better for the environment. At the same time, manufacturers are looking to ‘green’ their supply chains to meet this demand. Having in place robust environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies is also becoming a prerequisite in order to access investment.
Prioritising ingredient innovation
In order to address these issues, and to more fully leverage Canada’s existing excellence in agriculture, the Canadian government established Protein Industries Canada (PIC) in 2018. This is one of five innovation superclusters, created as part of a policy initiative to increase industry-led Research & Development in various sectors across the country.
PIC has facilitated over CAD $480 million in plant-based ingredients and related supply chain and climate change innovation projects in Canada over the past four years, and helped make the country an even more attractive destination for investment.
“Decarbonisation is a necessity, and shipping commodities is an expense,” notes Hart. “We have the technology to refine commodities into ingredients here, and to then these ship value-added products to market. This is a way for manufacturers to decarbonise.”
Canada’s crop diversity and technologically advanced farming sector make this possible. Plant protein-based manufacturers can access the full range of ingredients they require. Canada also has expertise in plant genetics, which is leading to interesting developments such as wheat with added fibre, or oil seed crops with reduced fibre.
Canada is also financial hub, so access to capital is not an issue.
“PIC has helped to bring together industry and investors, and we’ve seen a number of interesting pitches,” says Hart. “One of these was from a company that came up with the idea of using cellulose to store micronutrients, and to then put this cellulose back in the ground to feed crops.”
The company was able to team up with a food company that had pea fibre as a waste product. This method could replace a significant amount of synthetic nitrogen currently being applied to crop fields, increase efficiency, and reduce nitrogen run-off into the environment. Other innovations being pioneered through PIC include high-tech drone-based sprayers capable of targeting weeds and leaving crops alone.
An attractive investment
“We think that what Canada is offering is ideally suited to where European ingredient companies are looking to go,” says Hart. “Canada is a good place to do business. We have the arable land available, a diverse range of crops on offer and are strongly committed to decarbonisation, and reliability of supply.”
Looking forward, Canada is seeking to attract $6 billion of investments into plant-based ingredient production by 2030.