It was January 18, 2017 when a global food ingredient company based in France announced plans to build the world’s largest facility dedicated to producing pea protein at Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.

Fast forward four years, and Roquette’s new 200 thousand square foot pea processing plant has started accepting deliveries from farmers. In fact 163 loads of peas have been delivered since the first truck arrived from a farm at Carberry, Man. on November 18, 2020.

“We’ll be producing our high-grade pea protein by mid-summer 2021, and we’ll be at full capacity by early 2022,” explains Michelle Finley, communications and public affairs manager for Roquette Canada, in the interview below.

The company anticipates requiring around 125 thousand tonnes of yellow peas each year when running at full capacity.

While there are still about a thousand construction workers at the site, Roquette has filled approximately 110 out of 120 new permanent job positions, says Finley.

As is often the case with large capital projects, the price tag for the plant at Portage grew during construction, increasing from the C$400 million estimate announced in 2017 to around C$600 million with completion around the corner.

Michelle Finley (supplied)

“We are here for the long haul. We’ve invested C$600 million of private funding into this plant, and we think we are home here in Manitoba,” she says.

Anticipating increased demand for plant-based food products, Roquette has invested half a billion Euros in its plant-based protein capacity over the past five years, including the construction of the plant at Portage, expansion of a sister facility in France, the purchase of a texturization plant in the Netherlands, and investment in Equinom, an Israeli plant breeding company working on high protein pea genetics.

Among Roquette’s new employees in Manitoba are several agronomists whose role is to work with growers on producing peas that meet quality criteria while following Roquette’s production protocols.

“My main role is to work with growers to make sure they’re successful in growing peas, because their success is going to equal Roquette’s success,” says Anastasia Kubinec, who joined Roquette in fall after more than a decade working in crop extension for the provincial agriculture department.

As RealAgriculture has previously reported, Roquette will be contracting peas through an identity-preserved system, with several requirements regarding production practices. One of the top priorities is keeping soybeans — an allergen for some people — out of the peas that are delivered to the plant, explains Kubinec. The company asks growers to select fields that have not had soybeans grown on them for the previous two years. Growers are also required to be enrolled in the Manitoba or Saskatchewan environmental farm plan programs.

Anastasia Kubinec (supplied)

Roquette also requires growers do not apply glyphosate during the pre-harvest interval; however, the company has changed its pre-harvest policy for diquat following an update from the U.S. to its maximum residue limit (MRL) for the active ingredient in the fall of 2020.

Both diquat (Reglone) and saflufenacil (Heat) are approved for pre-harvest use in 2021, says Kubinec.

“We do talk to them about proper timing, whether or not a desiccant is used, why they’re using a desiccant, things like that, but just no glyphosate,” she explains.

Roquette has also launched an organic yellow pea contract for the 2021 season, and Kubinec says they’ve had strong interest from organic producers across the Prairie provinces.

The Roquette facility at Portage is one of several new pea processing plants in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, including the new Verdient Foods plant at Vanscoy, Sask., and Merit Functional Foods in Winnipeg, Man. Agrocorp opened the first phase of its pea protein plant in Cut Knife, Sask. in 2019, Parrheim Foods, a division of Parrish & Heimbecker, has a processing plant in Saskatoon, Sask. and Nutri-Pea has an existing facility in Portage, Man.

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