The future of canola is more than just seed, oil, & meal
Across the prairies, fields of golden yellow flowers bloom throughout July. This eye-catching crop, canola, is grown in most Western Canadian crop rotations. The roughly 20 million tonnes of canola produced each year contribute, on average, over $26 billion to the Canadian economy. Over $12 billion can be attributed to Saskatchewan. More than 90% of Canadian canola seed, oil, and meal is exported, making Canada a key player in the global canola value chain. Canada accounts for 50% of all canola and rapeseed oil exports around the world. Most people are familiar with the use of canola oil in heart-healthy vegetable oil and margarine. An opportunity exists to expand the canola product and export markets even further through exciting new end-uses. This blog explores some of the innovative ways to add value and grow demand even further for Canadian farmers’ canola crops.
A lot of cooking oil such as soybean, corn and canola oil is used in the restaurant industry, resulting in a surplus of used oil. The used oil and feedstocks are commonly used to produce renewable fuel sources. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has negatively impacted restaurant traffic across North America this year, depleting the availability of used cooking oil for refiners. The decline of available used cooking oil creates an opportunity for increased canola oil consumption by the biofuel industry. The high oil content of canola seeds (more than 43%) makes canola an efficient feedstock for biofuel production.
There are two main types of bio-based diesel fuels: biodiesel and hydrogenation derived renewable diesel (HDRD). Both fuels are produced from the same feedstocks; however, the method of production differs. One of the main differences between these biofuels is that biodiesel must be blended with conventional diesel, making it solely a fuel additive. Most manufacturers have a limit of 5% biodiesel content in these blends. HDRD, on the other hand, does not face blending, shelf-life, or energy limitations. Currently, there are 30 renewable biofuel production, blending, and distribution facilities in Canada; however, no HDRD processing plant exists, limiting the HDRD in Canada to imports. One goal outlined in the Saskatchewan Government’s Growth Plan 2030 was to increase the value-added capacity to 75% of Saskatchewan’s canola production. Introducing an HDRD processing plant here in Saskatchewan could help to achieve this goal, while simultaneously increasing market access for canola producers and increasing the availability of sustainable fuel sources to Canadians.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for human health, and they are a nutrient we need to incorporate into our diets as the human body does not produce them. Sources of this essential nutrient include oily or fatty fish such as trout, tuna, or salmon, which are high in omega-3. Fish in the wild receive their omega-3s from eating smaller fish that contain high levels of EPA and DHA (the beneficial, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids), while farmed fish need to be fed omega-3 enriched pellets made from wild-caught fish oil. The aquaculture industry is growing rapidly and the FAO expects, by 2030, will supply half to two-thirds of total global fish requirements. This need for aquafeed puts increasing pressure on both wild and farmed fish populations.
Cargill recently introduced a new source of omega-3 fatty acids, LatitudeTM oil, made from a canola variety specifically developed to be rich in omega-3. This oil can be added to aquafeed as a sustainable alternative to fish oil made from wild fish populations. One cup of the canola produced omega-3 fatty acids can replace about 200 anchovies. Currently, the entire supply chain of LatitudeTM is managed by Cargill, from the specialty canola seed to the oil production. This newly developed canola provides a unique opportunity for grain and fish farmers to work together towards improved sustainability of our lands and our oceans.
Plant-Based Protein Source
As the world population increases, the demand for plant-based protein products is increasing simultaneously. Changes in health, culture, and environmental concerns have all contributed to the rapid growth of this industry. Soy is one of the leading sources of plant-based protein around the globe. Yet, studies have shown that canola is a high-quality protein alternative, comparable to soy, milk, and eggs. Food products suitable to include canola protein have been identified as bakery products, drinks, meat-binders, and cheese-like products. Though canola contains only 36% crude protein compared to 48% in soybean, there are certainly market opportunities for this protein source.
Protein Industries Canada (PIC), one of Canada’s innovation Superclusters, is a non-profit organization working to position Canada as a global leader in plant-based protein product development. They have identified four main objectives to drive their investment decisions: 1) create high-protein seeds; 2) grow high-quality protein; 3) make novel products; and 4) market and sell. PICs investments will help advance plant breeding, farming technologies, and improve the protein content and quality of canola. Therefore, we expect that PIC will help to drive canola’s expansion into the human protein market as the demand continues to grow.
One such way we expect to see Canada expand canola into an available protein source is through Winnipeg-based Merit Functional Foods. Merit Functional Foods is in the process of building the first commercial-scale production facility in the world to produce food-grade canola protein, a project partially funded by PIC. The supply-chain for this canola protein will be fully coordinated. All canola used in production will be grown in Western Canada and processed in Winnipeg. This initiative provides a value-added opportunity for Western Canadian canola farmers and opens the door for similar value-added opportunities in the future.
Canada’s Competitive Advantage
As the biggest single producer of canola globally, Canada is uniquely positioned to become a global leader in adding value to canola products. Though the market for canola oil for human consumption and meal for animal feed remains strong, new and innovative opportunities to add value to this important crop continue to drive increased demand for its production. Western Canadian farmers already sustainably produce high-quality canola year after year. Now, with innovative end-uses for this crop including biofuel, aquafeed, and plant-based protein, Canadian farmers have even more opportunities to capitalize on their competitive advantage in producing canola.
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