Protein Industries Canada in line with Global Trends: Enormous Opportunity for the Prairies

Wilf Keller and Dominic Barton in Saskatoon Photo provided by Ag-West Bio

In February, the federal government announced it will invest at least $150 million into the Protein Industries Canada supercluster. PIC was founded by a group of partners in response to a federal funding announcement for supercluster initiatives, the first of its kind in Canada, through Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED). The private sector must match the federal funds dollar for dollar.

It is estimated that PIC could generate over $700 million in new commercial activity and billions in incremental GDP over the next decade, together with approximately 4,700 new jobs.[1] A collaboration between about 120 private-sector companies, academic institutions and other stakeholders across Western Canada will help PIC develop the plant protein industry.

Wilf Keller, CEO at Ag-West Bio, is on PIC’s interim board of directors and said with over 40 per cent of Canada’s cultivated crop land, Saskatchewan stands to benefit substantially from the supercluster initiative. PIC will add value to Canadian crops, lead to the development of strong food and feed ingredient industries and establish new companies along with hundreds of new jobs and organizations, especially within Saskatchewan’s established bioscience cluster. “The funding of the Protein Industries Canada supercluster will transform the agri-food sector in the prairie provinces. Several companies and public research organizations have previously established programs and associated expertise that will contribute directly to the growth of the supercluster,” said Keller.

Dominic Barton presenting at Innovation Place in Saskatoon Photo Provided by Ag-West Bio

Dominic Barton, the chair of the Canadian Minister of Finance’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth, gave a talk in Saskatoon about seizing on economic opportunities associated with PIC. One of PIC’s main objectives is getting protein from plants in an efficient way to create delicious, healthy food products.

“I think the need for us to shift that way is growing very quickly. This is the center of production of the raw ingredients… how do we process more of that and not just ship it (away), and package it and brand it?”

Barton said Asia and Africa’s rising middle class will grow the world’s population by 2.4 billion by 2030, which will mean an “astronomical” demand for protein. “We’ve never seen that in our history. It’s a huge opportunity for us.”

On a sober note, he said there’s a $500 billion to $1 trillion infrastructure gap. “We can be excited as much as we want about agri-food on the Prairies, but if we don’t have the port infrastructure and rail transportation to be able to get it out, it’s not going to happen. We’re already constrained for today’s world.” Private capital will be needed for large infrastructure projects. For that to succeed, more foreign direct investment into Canadian companies is needed. “We attract about a quarter of the amount of foreign direct investment that our peers do. It’s a very complicated process so we’d like it (to be a) streamlined, one-stop shop with more of a marketing approach,” said Barton.

Field of Lentils in Saskatchewan Photo by Tanya Sharp

Ron Styles, PIC’s acting president, said funding agreement and partnership talks with the federal government are underway. He predicts the agreement will be finalized by mid-summer. In the meantime, planning, policy and framework discussions have begun. Thematic workshops will be held to bring future members together to talk about specific issues in the market around crop proteins and to understand challenges. Styles hopes PIC’s initial projects will be announced by the fall. A conference at that time will outline the first projects and bring together the interested parties.

PIC intends to collaborate with the Ocean Supercluster in Atlantic Canada, which plans to develop aquaculture systems that will require high-protein feed. “We believe that if they’re going to grow, they’re going to need a lot more feed and we want to provide that higher-protein feed,” explained Styles.

Government funding for the supercluster runs out in five years. Styles wants there to be a strong ecosystem in place by then that will continue to benefit Canada and the prairie provinces. “I know people are really focused on the projects but just as important an outcome, from our perspective, is the development of an ecosystem. We want to be the leading protein provider in the world. That will take time; it may not be completed by the end of five years,” he said. Styles says large operations will help push PIC into international markets. He sees a role for small and medium enterprises in processing and marketing by-products that come from high-protein, value-added foods.

Learn more about Protein Industries Canada at: www.proteinindustriescanada.ca

[1] www.proteinindustriescanada.ca/news-releases.html