Building the "Protein Highway"

Western Canada and the northern U.S. could be positioned to provide more plant-based food protein to parts of the world where a shortage of protein is a growing nutritional problem.

Some big picture thinkers, including John Oliver of Maple Leaf Bio-Concepts, are working on developing a concept they’re calling the “Protein Highway.”

Extending from the Canadian prairies south into South Dakota, he explains this corridor has the supply in crops like canola and pulses to become a hub for processing and innovation in plant-based food protein.

“The idea is that area would be a feedstock base and we would bring in the technology and companies that are going to develop new products off that base,” says Oliver in the interview below. “It’s all aimed at filling a protein need in the future.”

Related: Pulse School: Global Food Trends Favour Pulses

Although the federal election is adding some uncertainty to the plans, the Consulate General’s office in Minneapolis, led by Jamshed Merchant, is organizing a network to develop the concept. Oliver says a series of events to showcase the “Protein Highway” concept are planned for 2016.

“We’ve always talked about the breadbasket in the West, but it could be the breadbasket for the world for plant protein,” he says.

Oliver is also working on the developing the biofuel market for carinata — the brassica relative of canola that’s well suited for dry areas of southwest Saskatchewan and southern Alberta. He notes restricting use of feedstocks for fuel will likely be one of the issues addressed at the UN climate change conference in Paris in December, which could open opportunities for carinata as a non-food crop.

The “Protein Highway” concept and the potential for carinata were part of Oliver’s conversation with RealAg’s Shaun Haney at the Advancing Women Conference in Toronto this week:

Watch more coverage of the 2015 Advancing Women in Agriculture Conferences here.

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