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New ‘Protein Highway’ initiative looks to capitalize on region’s unique agricultural strengths

by Carolyn Orr ~ April 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Farmers in the states and provinces that make up CSG Midwest’s Midwestern Legislative Conference are the most prolific producers of edible protein in the world. This is an enviable position to be in, especially at a time when demand for high-protein diets is on the rise, and a new binational partnership is seeking to make the most of this regional economic advantage.
Developed by the Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis, the “Protein Highway” initiative encompasses three Canadian provinces (Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan) and six U.S. states (Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota).
“[It] is a great way to not only connect research between universities, but to tie in the private industries and producers that can benefit from the research and from the increasing demand and profitability due to value-added products,” says Kevin Kephart, vice president of economic development at South Dakota State University.
“It is an effort that really makes sense for the region.”
States such as Iowa and Nebraska are known as global leaders in meat production, but less recognized is this region’s pre-eminent role in growing high-protein plants — for example, North Dakota is the largest producer of dry beans in North America, and Saskatchewan leads the world in canola and pea production.
The goal of this new initiative (which includes participation from university faculty and agricultural producers) is not only to improve research capabilities and cooperation, but to create a regionwide brand built around protein production.
If successful, says Jamshed Merchant, Canadian consul general in Minneapolis, the initiative will “increase the demand for regional farm products and lead to a more diverse array of crops to choose from during planting season.”
The first step is to encourage research and entrepreneurship that centers on high-protein crops in the region. Experts around the world agree that innovation in agriculture production is needed to meet the food demands of future generations. But it also can open new markets. For example, with improvements to palatability, aroma, digestibility and functionality, a wide variety of protein-rich crops could be incorporated into popular items such as cereals, granola bars and snack items — a potentially huge market opportunity for the Midwest’s farmers.
Another area of interest is animal feeds. South Dakota-based Prairie Aquatech, for instance, is working to expand the use of plant-based commodities, such as soybean meal and distillers grain, in fish and other animal feeds.
By encouraging more collaboration and innovation across state and provincial borders (whether it be better marketing plant-protein products or improving their production), the initiative hopes to spur economic growth in agricultural communities across the Midwest.


Article written by Carolyn Orr, CSG Midwest staff liaison for the Midwestern Legislative Conference Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee.