Plans by Chinese industrial interests to build an alfalfa protein extraction plant on land just purchased at the City of Terrace-owned Skeena Industrial Development Park make total sense, says mayor Dave Pernarowski.
Pernarowski, who was front and centre in negotiations leading up to the land deal struck this week with business interests from the Chinese economic development zone Qinhuangdao, said there is huge demand for alfalfa for livestock and human consumption in China which is becoming increasingly health-conscious and affluent.
“There is a particular shortage in China for this type of protein and the Chinese government is also trying to restructure diet there to a certain degree, so there are school milk plans and the development of animal agriculture which brings the demand for this protein even higher,” said Pernarowski.
If the plans announced last week come together, construction of an alfalfa processing centre could start within three years on a 33-acre parcel at the industrial development park to supply 10,000 tons of feed-grade alfalfa protein annually for livestock and 2,000 tons of food grade alfalfa protein for human consumption for shipment to China.
Canada is a significant exporter of alfalfa to countries such as Japan and Korea and those in the Middle East, however shipping the actual plant in unprocessed form to China has proven nearly impossible because of strict inspections for organic imports there.
By synthesizing the alfalfa into pure form using what Pernarowski calls “an intense process” it can then be shipped in powdered or condensed form from the port in Prince Rupert.
This process involves pressing, liquid filtering and centrifuging leading to a protein in packaged form with another process that turns leftover alfalfa into pellets.
Raw alfalfa would come from Saskatchewan, making Terrace the processing point of a value-added supply chain that would eventually end in China.
According to Ed Shaw, an Albertan forage broker and president of International Forage and Feed, in recent years many large forage companies have either been blacklisted or withdrawn from alfalfa feed export to China.
“Chinese regulations for the import of [alfalfa] hay is the most strict in the world. They’ve got a platinum standard that far exceeds Japanese standards,” said Shaw. “If you ship stuff over and its rejected you can’t ship it back. There are major exporters in the U.S. who will no longer ship to China or will not start to. The risk is too big. We’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars of cost when it’s rejected.”
Pernarowski highlighted the fact that processing alfalfa for export here is an environmentally friendly process.
“What we like about this particular manufacturing plant is that the protein is naturally pressed and extracted from alfalfa leaf so there is no chemical synthesis and no chemical emissions, it’s just a small amount of waste water that comes from a plant like this and is not harmful to the environment,” he said.
The proposed development also fits with Terrace’s inclinations as a community that has a long-standing agricultural tradition with a long growing season afforded by the coastal climate, he said.
“I don’t think that many people would have imagined this would be the first manufacturing facility they would see come to the Skeena Industrial Development Park,” the mayor said. “As a community that really supports locally-grown food and agriculture we have an opportunity now considering our strategic location in Northwest British Columbia to start working really closely with agricultural-based products and this is a good example of that.”
The Terrace processing facility will employ 170 skilled workers, most of them slated to be local, said Pernarowski.