Pulse Beat Individual Articles

Message from Executive Director

Daryl Domitruk headshotDaryl Domitruk, Executive Director, MPSG

Last issue I outlined the various stages of research Manitoba Pulse & Soybean (MPSG) supports. All of it, I claimed, was to improve the short- and long-term bottom lines for farmers. 

But, what about research that improves food?

That’s a tougher chew. Compared to research to improve yield, improving the taste, cooking attributes and even health-promoting traits of crops have not carried the same value back to the farm. So, why should farmers pay for research on food? 

Manitoba hosts a large and skilled food research and development workforce. Historically, MPSG’s check-off supported their work. However, an increasing focus on farm gate outcomes put food research on the back burner. We reasoned farmers’ jobs are to make money supplying crops to the market. What our customers do with the crops is their business. 

While that reasoning still stands, we can’t avoid the fact that the end-use qualities of our soybean, pea and bean crops matter a great deal to our customers. If we lack specific qualities, we forfeit our place in the market. The emergence of foods made from purified plant proteins has put an even sharper point on this fact. So, yes, we’re in food research – the kind that truly impacts the farm gate. 

Of course, there’s way more to food than science. Another of MPSG’s focus areas is market development. Efforts in this area are revealing some interesting opportunities. 

From trade missions to Japan to a school lunch program in Neepawa, M.B. the need for Manitoba to supply pulses and soybeans is clear. In those places we’re learning the food market is a mosaic of tastes and traditions. Whether centuries old or the product of the latest trend, people’s diets demand specific qualities in foods – not just protein but foods of a particular size, shape and colour across a range of tastes, smells and processing attributes. 

The mosaic of diets around every corner makes the task of breaking into and maintaining markets very complex. Fortunately, our partners at Soy Canada and Pulse Canada have the experience and connections to make it happen. Governments too are always opening doors to new markets. It’s a trick to orchestrate but these groups are instrumental in demonstrating to prospective customers the value of Canadian pulses and soybeans. 

Pulses, and even some soybeans, don’t always fit with our ingrained image of Prairie farms exporting boat loads of nearly identical grain. Our higher value crops are shipped in smaller quantities with qualities tailored to specific markets. Food-grade soybean is a significant business that’s open to our product. Our challenge is to reach the desired protein levels as well as the seed sizes and shapes customers prefer. This won’t be easy for our small industry. We will absolutely need the help of government research labs. 

No farm product exudes diversity like dry edible beans. We ship beans with a wide range of colours and sizes to over 40 countries. Lately, though, our market growth strategy has focused on the bean eating habits of Canadians. 

Diets are rooted in culture. Beans were once revered in the culture of our young country. That’s changed for a whole bunch of reasons, but a detailed study by Pulse Canada suggests we can bring beans back to the centre of Canada’s culinary culture. It seems beans have the taste, health and environmental qualities consumers want. Beans are also comforting; they’re Grandma in the kitchen. What’s stopping a full embrace of beans is that they’re time consuming to prepare and have a reputation for being a bit boring. 

That takes us back to food research. This time the lab coats are worn by chefs. Check out MPSG-funded Great Tastes of Manitoba episodes and you’ll see how the science in the bean gets combined with the art of the chef to change the way we think about beans – not as farmers or scientists or exporters but as consumers reshaping Canadian culture through an ever-expanding dietary mosaic.