Features Future

Saskatchewan: Not the last straw

Photo by Greg Huszar.

Recently, Saskatchewan’s Energy and Resources Minister observed that global interest in Saskatchewan is at an all-time high as countries look to this province as an ethical and reliable producer for their resource needs (World Spectator, June 22, 2022). We’re seeing that interest provincially and nationally as innovators find new opportunities here.

Red Leaf Pulp recently found compelling reasons to locate in Regina. Based in Kelowna, the company’s raison d’être is to convert wheat straw to pulp. As the largest crop-producing province in Canada, Saskatchewan has copious amounts of straw with no previously determined end use. Canada invested $3.8 million in this cleantech company through its Sustainable Development Technology Canada fund. “Innovative clean technologies are good for the economy and critical to solving the twin crises of climate change and nature loss. Kelowna’s own Red Leaf Pulp is demonstrating this,” said Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Jonathan Wilkinson in a media release. Repurposing agricultural residues will reduce waste and save forests.

“The availability of the resource was fairly obvious to us,” says Red Leaf’s VP of corporate development, William Walls. “We require only 15 per cent participation of wheat producers within 140 kilometres of our facility. However, more impressive has been the willingness of key producers to sit down and listen to our business case.”

Logistically, the province offers the capacity to quickly gather and transport feedstock during the weeks of harvest. “Further, the province is in ideal proximity to major converters [buyers of pulp to make tissue, towel, and molded products] in the central USA via rail and highway,” adds Walls.

New technologies necessitate new knowledge and skills. Red Leaf identified satisfactory workforce availability in Saskatchewan and support in the community. “From inception two years ago, we have been impressed by the willingness of advanced education institutions and First Nations to proactively assist us in establishing training and the trades necessary to make our facility a success in the community,” Walls observes. Support has also been felt from relevant government departments.

New ventures typically look for infrastructure support and access to utilities. Walls encountered a very positive reception and solutions-focused discussion among all parties as they negotiated access to power, natural gas, water, and rail.

Wheat straw, however, is not the only game in town. Flax straw has caught the attention of Prairie Clean Energy (PCE). The initial focus of this 2020 Saskatchewan startup has been transforming flax straw into renewable biomass fuel. The owners are from Saskatchewan and don’t want to be anywhere else. “We are Saskatchewan people, and we are Saskatchewan proud,” says president and CEO, Mark Cooper.

Flax straw is abundantly available in Saskatchewan, and it made sense financially and practically to go where the straw is. Locals like the idea. “Organizations like Saskatchewan Flax Producers have been very engaged with us in trying to find solutions that work,” says Cooper. PCE has added wood pellets to its product line-up. It will source available waste from sawmill and logging operations near Prince Albert and north, to produce the pellets. Prairie Clean Energy received a grant from the Saskatchewan Advantage Innovation Fund (SAIF). “SAIF has really embraced the concept of what we’re trying to do. They have been easy to work with and a very helpful conduit for support every step of the way,” Cooper says. The company plans to open operations in Alberta, Manitoba, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, but will maintain its world headquarters in Saskatchewan. Small
community size and a broad base of connections across the province provides a bit of a home court advantage.

Launched in 2015, G3 Canada Limited is building its presence in western Canada with new grain elevators coming to Saskatchewan and Alberta. They’ll join a network of “high efficiency grain handling facilities” that will help farmers beat a quicker path to world markets. G3 Melfort is under construction and set to open next year. “Saskatchewan includes some of the most important grain growing regions in the country, and we have located our facilities to offer the best service possible to Saskatchewan farmers looking for more marketing and delivery opportunities for their grain,” says Peter Chura, corporate communications specialist at G3. G3’s state of the art grain export terminal in Vancouver opened in 2020 and has been establishing port records for rapid loading and unloading. “It is setting a new standard for efficiency in Canada’s grain supply chain,” says Chura. G3’s rail loop track design is part of its “smarter path” to help hasten grain movement on the prairies. Developing constructive relationships with the province and municipalities has been critical. “We’re proud to be part of these communities,” adds Chura.

Well-established global corporations, Cargill and Viterra, are increasing operations in Saskatchewan. Both have announced they will develop $350 million canola crushing plants in Regina. Canada is the world’s top canola producer and Saskatchewan grows 55 per cent of that. Cargill has expressed confidence in the continued growth and competitiveness of the canola processing industry.

By 2004, Cargill had 15 primary licensed elevators in Saskatchewan. In 2015, the company opened the largest soft seed oil processing plant in North America, in Clavet, just outside Saskatoon. “Cargill has a strong presence in Saskatchewan thanks to a variety of factors including innovative farmers, sustainably growing canola, skilled talent available to support our operations and thriving communities that provide an excellent quality of life,” says Jeff Vassart, president, Cargill Canada. “In addition, we have seen infrastructure investment from all levels of government in Saskatchewan that help support growth in the agriculture industry, ultimately providing new market opportunities for area producers.”

Recent development in Saskatchewan reveals some common threads and new directions toward clean and innovative technology, waste reduction, market efficiencies, climate considerations and improved logistics. Other new entities in the mining and fertilizer industries have made a home here. Clearly, Saskatchewan is not the last straw when it comes to business-friendly locations! With abundant natural resources, it’s a natural place to do business.