Unlocking canola’s protein potential

Unlocking canola’s protein potential

By Kathy Kerr

Canola is already a $27-billion business in Canada.

But most of that wealth rests on oil. Research is underway that could unlock more value by boosting the protein content of canola meal, opening up more and diverse markets for the signature prairie crop.

“Canola is about 45 per cent oil and 55 per cent protein meal, and we’ve looked at protein meal as being an undervalued co-product,” says Dave Dzisiak, commercial leader grains & oil, North America, for Corteva Agriscience.

“With the advances of plant sciences, our knowledge of how genes work, how the seed matures and its physiology we believe we’ve got a really good research plan that can make a step change in the improvement of protein within the canola seed. That would give us a high-value oil and much higher value of protein.”

Dave Dzisiak, Corteva Agriscience, Protein Industries CanadaDzisiak has been helping to drive the industry’s push to increase protein content in canola seed by 20 per cent.

He has also been on the board of the Canola Council of Canada since 2002 and has just finished off a two-year term as council president. He has been involved in the federal supercluster Protein Industries Canada (PIC) since its inception and currently sits on the board of directors.

Canola meal now is sold to feed dairy cows. About 80 per cent of the meal goes to the California dairy market. Cows, with their three stomachs, can break down and access the protein. The Corteva research aims to develop canola meal which could be fed to mono-gastric animals, such as poultry and swine, and in aquaculture, opening up wider markets.

The timeline Corteva proposes would see commercialization of the more protein-rich canola in five years.

“We have prototype seed that demonstrates the potential to do it. There’s a lot of variety in the germ plasm so we have to find high-protein lines and develop them further and do things to change the software of the plant, the genetic controls of the plant, to make it more consistent and to make it more consistent across different growing environments.”

The Corteva research doesn’t rely on bringing in new DNA to the plant. It uses modern plant breeding and potentially gene editing, says Dzisiak.

“We need to get the plant to be a more reliable producer of protein in itself. And that’s within the realm of science we have today that we wouldn’t have had 10 years ago.”

Dzisiak can’t put an exact number on how much added value the new canola will produce.

“We don’t know because we need to have high-protein lines we can test in animal trials.

The animal will tell you the truth about how efficiently it can use the protein. But canola meal sells for $300 a tonne. Soybean meal (now sold to the mono-gastric market) sells for $500 a tonne. So if we can get to 80 or 85 per cent the value of soybean meal that would be substantial value creation.”

And opening new markets would also add volume and value to the Canadian food-processing industry.

In the 38 years he has been involved in the industry, Dzisiak has seen research transform the agricultural economy and canola in particular.

“When I started in 1981, biotech didn’t exist in agriculture. The advancement and pace of science has been outstanding. When I started there was about four-million acres of canola that year. No one would have ever imagined it would be a $27-billion industry in Canada today or it would be occupying 22-million acres of cropland. Back then, wheat was king.”

Corteva Agriscience, which will become independent in June of this year, is the result of the merger of agricultural divisions of the original Dow and Dupont corporations. Dow and DuPont merged last year. The multinational has more than 600 employees in Canada, with its Canadian head office in Calgary.

Dzisiak has been involved in crop research with Dow/Corteva for 30 years and was instrumental in developing improved canola oils with healthier properties.

He is retiring from Corteva in April.

Wilf Keller, president and CEO of Ag-West Bio and a ground-breaking researcher in canola, says Dzisiak is a visionary who has reached out to understand the bigger things that can be done with canola and contributed to increasing the value of the crop.

“Probably his biggest contribution was the development of super high stable oil, high oleic canola oil. This has been very important in selling canola into the restaurant industry, for example, because of the stability of that oil in deep frying. That oil is also nutritionally better.”

Keller says the work Dzisiak has been doing on increasing protein content in canola meal will add even more value.

And more than those accomplishments, says Keller, is the time Dzisiak has spent on training, and on boards and committees for the sector.

“He thinks beyond canola. He thinks about pulses. He thinks about the role of cereal. He’s just a great agriculture visionary for the Prairies.”

Dzisiak sees his role over the years as a champion for canola in Canada, and in getting his company to invest in the crop and understand its great potential.

The 60-year-old Dzisiak says at some point one has to retire.

“I want a chance to get involved in some other things. We’re at a transition time. I have had a good role in getting Corteva set up for success and there are other things I would like to do professionally before I actually do retire.”

He won’t be specific on his next plans but says he plans “to continue to be involved on the protein side of our future.”


Kathy Kerr, a former business and deputy editor at the Edmonton Journal, is a freelance writer.

Posted March 25, 2019

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