Protein presents opportunity for agriculture

The world’s agriculture market is being driven by protein – which Canada can produce with the best

Murad Al-Katib of AGT Food and Ingredients said Canadian agriculture is in a position to capitalize on the world’s increasing desire for protein.

The president and chief executive officer of the Regina-based company was the keynote speaker at the Grain World conference in November.

Why it matters: Consumers worldwide are turning to alternative protein sources and that creates new market opportunities for farmers.

“When I was a kid I used to say we are the breadbasket of the world. Wheat was the predominant crop in Davidson, Sask. That was something we could be very proud of. Cereals are still a massive part of our industry and continue to be, but now we got a three-crop rotation. We’ve got the ability now in Saskatchewan with lentils, chickpeas and beans to compliment the cereal rotation,” Al-Katib said.

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Protein, he stressed, is the key driver in the world agricultural market.

“When we look at protein consumption, Saskatchewan and Canada I think are going to be first on what I call the protein highway. If we can successfully link that to the silk road in Asia, I think we are going to be very, very successful,” Al-Katib said.

Along with that protein highway, he said, will be massive growth in the world’s population and in turn that will lead to a fundamental change in Canadian agriculture.

“The consumer Canada will serve 10, 20 years from now in agriculture is almost completely different than the consumer we are serving today. The consumer today is based on the commodity nature of our agriculture economy. The consumer of the future is related to the $35 trillion in middle class spending in Asia.”

To meet that huge demand, Al-Katib said the world will need to produce more food than it did in the previous 10,000 years. One avenue available is increasing plant-based protein consumption. With that in mind, he stated AGT is not ‘anti-meat’ as some in the agriculture industry have portrayed the company as being. Rather, Al-Katib noted there are tremendous opportunities for pork and beef producers as well in the coming years, but noted meat-based protein alone cannot meet the growing demand.

Al-Katib said the needed changes have already been developing in Canadian agriculture, such as the growth of soybeans, lentils and chickpeas. Assisting that, he said, is the co-operation between players in the industry, such as AGT, with universities in undertaking research and development.

But Al-Katib said one cannot be confined to only science, and data analytics must be an integral part of taking a greater share of the emerging markets.

“We have to get our heads out of the sand in saying science is only all that matters. Unfortunately, I’ve become unpopular with some scientists. Consumer behavior and preferences govern my thinking,” Al-Katib said.

One area Al-Katib does see as an impediment to growing Canada’s agriculture sector is government regulation. He cited a recent report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that pegged Canada 36th out of 75 countries when it came to regulatory competitiveness.

“The quantification was the regulatory system in our country is equivalent to an estimated seven to eight per cent tariff on small business. This is an unacceptable scenario.”

Another impediment Al-Katib pointed to was Canada’s lack of a 50-year infrastructure plan that shifts infrastructure from constantly being a political issue to becoming a national economic priority, such as was achieved in Australia.

“Infrastructure also means fast, accessible broadband Internet in the entire country. We should not be a country where if you want to be in business you have to move to a large city. As the agriculture sector wants to capitalize on a data analytics, we need modern, fast broadband. Government has to make that decision,” he said.

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Glen Hallick writes for MarketsFarm specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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