The Asian diet consists of a lot of plant-based starches and protein — always has. As the Asian population increases, so does the demand for these food ingredients.

There’s a lot of big things on the horizon in Canadian agriculture. Gene editing and precision agriculture are two and tend to gobble up a lot of headlines.

But there’s another “big thing” that’s looming large, specifically in the world of processing. Fractionation of commodities, more specifically of Canadian field peas, is poised to become a major frontier of Canadian agriculture for a couple of different reasons.

First, let me paint a picture for you of the value of peas to Canada’s total exports.

According to the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, Canada is the world’s largest producer and exporter of field peas, Canada’s largest pulse crop. Canada accounts for over 30 per cent of world pea production and over 50 per cent of world pea trade. One of Canada’s largest pea markets is China, and it’s not because the Chinese are eating a lot of peas.

So what is fueling the rise in pea fractionation and plant-based protein?

  • The DEMAND factor. China’s reason for wanting Canadian peas is starch extraction for vermicelli noodle production. Pea starch is a by-product of the fractionation process, whereby the protein is extracted from field peas for use in a variety of food products. The Asian diet consists of a lot of plant-based starches and protein — always has. As the Asian population increases, so does the demand for these food ingredients. At the same time, North America and Europe are seeing that we have a lot to learn from this model, where plant-based protein is heavily relied upon and meat is widely considered more of a luxury item. As North Americans and Europeans begin to eat more pulses (promotion of pulses as an alternative to meat is helping sell more pulse products than ever in Canada), demand here and beyond our borders is skyrocketing.
  • The COST factor. Plant-based protein is considerably cheaper to process than animal protein. As the world population grows and resource availability and environmental issues (climate change especially) loom larger, our lives are poised to change. Animal protein will play far less of a role in our diets, due in large part to cost, and plant-based protein will step in to replace it.

It’s a burgeoning industry, and in my next column I will shed more light on why and how it’s a market that is receiving considerable attention from farmers looking to diversify in the post-Wheat Board age. Stay tuned.

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