By Tom Collins
COBDEN — The new Beyond Meat burger might be angering cattlemen and carnivores, but some crop farmers are wondering if there could be an opportunity for a new market.
The California-based company, Beyond Meat, now sells its burgers at both A&W and Tim Hortons, and started selling its burgers in Canadian grocery stores in the beef section in May. One of the main ingredients in the plant-based food is pea protein, which comes from yellow peas. The yellow peas can only be grown in cooler climates, so the U.S.-based company, financed by high-tech leader Bill Gates, gets all of its yellow peas from Canada and France.
There are a slew of factors against growing the crop in Eastern Ontario. The price is low, yellow peas don’t do well in the heat and there are no local markets to send the crop, say an agronomist and grain merchant.
Kevin Campbell is the grain merchant for Grant Ag, an elevator at New Liskeard in Northern Ontario. The company accepts yellow peas, but Campbell says farmers in Eastern and East-Central Ontario should wait until prices go up before growing the crop.
He said farmers in his area averaged about one metric tonne per acre last year because of the dry, hot summer (although in good years, yields could be as high as 1.5 to 2 tonnes per acre), which sells for about $300 per tonne. By comparison, corn prices at Eastern and East-Central elevators ranged from $215 to $234 per tonne and soybeans ranged from $400 to $411 per tonne on July 19. The cost of production for yellow peas ranges from $150 to $175 per acre.
Yellow pea prices used to be around $400 per tonne, but those peas were going to India. In 2017, India introduced huge tariffs on peas, causing many growers to switch to a more profitable crop. Grant Ag’s yellow peas are now used as protein in domestic pet food.
“The price of peas has dropped far enough in that they’re not competitive against wheat or barley or soybeans anymore,” said Campbell. He said if the price comes back up, there could be an opportunity for Ontario farmers, but for now, “it’s just not profitable.”
Ontario plants a meagre 3,000 to 15,000 acres of yellow peas, depending on who you ask. Western Canada grows about 3.5 million acres, where temperatures are much cooler.
Yellow peas simply can’t take the Ontario heat, said Terry Phillips, a Northern Ontario agronomist. There, the pea is planted in the first two weeks of May when temperatures hover around zero, while harvest begins the third week of August.
There’s currently no production insurance for the crop in Ontario, another strike against it, said Phillips. Agricorp does offer a risk management program and an AgriStability program.
Reuben Stone of Cobden in Renfrew County — who grows forage peas for seed for silage mixes — has considered growing yellow peas on a large scale. He believes growers in his area could grow yellow peas and make a profit at it, he said. “There’s a positive market trend in yellow peas and there’s a very pessimistic bearish market trend in soybeans, so why wouldn’t you,” he said. He wants OMAFRA to do a large-scale study of the crop to see if there is an opportunity for farmers to make money.
Yellow peas were the most commonly grown variety of peas in the early 1970s. Decades before that, yellow peas were used for protein before soybeans came onto the scene.
Another big issue for Ontario growers is finding a buyer. Hensall Co-op used to accept yellow peas at its Northern Ontario location for a few years but stopped around 2017 as the quality wasn’t good enough.
Even with the possible increase in demand, Hensall origination manager Wade Bickell doesn’t foresee his company getting back into the crop. “You never say never, but I don’t see us doing anything with them in the near future in Ontario,” he said. “It seems like it’s a Saskatchewan crop because of the climate. They can deliver better quality.”
He added that the processing capacity for the Ontario co-op is full, and to take on another crop would require an expansion for processing. “I just don’t think it’s a valuable enough crop for an Ontario producer,” he said.
Roquette Frères, the France-based company that is Beyond Meat’s largest supplier, is currently building the largest pea processing plant in the world in Portage la Prairie, Man. at a cost of $400 million. Hollywood director James Cameron is backing Verdient Foods of Saskatchewan, a plant protein group, that is also planning to build a new plant.
W.A. Grain and Pulse Solutions has built a new pulse processing plant on Prince Edward Island, which will process yellow peas among other crops such as black beans, cranberry beans, rye and barley, for overseas markets.
Beyond Meat was originally offered at shares of US $25 in May, but those prices tripled in the first day of trading and have since climbed to US $215 as of July 25.
Beyond Meat trend doesn’t offer new crop market as Ontario is too hot, price too low for yellow peas
By Tom Collins