It’s been an eventful few months since Bill Greuel was appointed CEO of the Protein Industries Canada Supercluster (PIC), which aims to make Canada a world leader in plant-based proteins.
“I’m very lucky to be part of something that we’re building from the ground up,” said Greuel, who was previously an assistant deputy minister for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture.
The Prairies-based supercluster is an industry-led value chain consortium of small- to large-sized enterprises. It’s guided by a board of industry leaders and supported by over 120 organizations. The not-for-profit corporation is investing across the value chain, and will look at plant breeding and genomics, primary production, value-added processing, market development and access, and servicing those markets through improved traceability and logistics. Expected outcomes will be new, superior quality plant-derived foods, ingredients and feed stuffs.
Last February, PIC’s proposal was chosen to receive funding under the federal Innovation Superclusters Initiative. In November, PIC signed the nearly $153 million contribution agreement. The funding will be matched dollar for dollar by the private sector. The corporation is now laying the groundwork to create a game-changing future for agriculture in Western Canada.
Much of this groundwork is related to back-end administrative work: forming intellectual property and data management strategies, establishing financial controls and hiring staff.
A two-phase project evaluation process is under development. An independent review committee is being formed to help evaluate project applications.
Greuel has also been dedicated to stakeholder engagement to identify expectations, opportunities and challenges in increasing the value-added processing sector. He says several emerging challenges would benefit from pre-competitive research. For example, increasing yellow peas’ protein content has downstream effects for the value chain. “The same could be said for decreasing the fibre content in canola… that increases the value of the meal and makes processing more efficient and effective,” says Greuel.
Greuel referenced Western Canadian investments into protein fractionation, a process that separates pea protein and results in leftover starch and fibre. “We need to find some uses for all of these products because that changes the economics of processing. Today, starch is a low-value product,” he says.
When it comes to opportunities for Saskatchewan farmers, Greuel said to compare Western Canada’s canola industry with today’s pulse industry. The majority of the region’s pulse crops are leaving the country, unprocessed or with only initial bagging, cleaning and splitting. The canola industry was in a similar state 35 years ago when the majority of the oilseed crop was leaving Canada in a raw, unprocessed state. “Fast forward to today, we’ve got several canola crushing plants in Western Canada. We are processing almost 50 per cent of our crop, we’re shipping out oil, we’re shipping out meal – that has direct impact on producers because it changes the economics of production,” says Gruel. “I think we can imagine a pulse sector that looks like that 10 and 15 years from now.”
However, Greuel said PIC is cautious about outcomes; it will not change the value-added processing sector overnight. “We’re taking a long-term view with what we’re doing and trying to create the markets and conditions that will bring the capital investment for increased value-added processing here to the Prairies.” He acknowledged the federal government for its investment, calling it an “exciting time” for agriculture.
Contact PIC directly for help in developing an expression of interest. A series of workshops will be held this spring. For details, visit proteinindustriescanada.ca