On Wednesday and Thursday, Phyto Organix Foods Inc. met with local farmers for the first time in the Strathmore and Vulcan regions to discuss their $225 million yellow pea processing facility.

Using fractionation, the facility will create plant proteins to create alternative meat and dairy products.

Around 40 farmers were able to share their opinions and thoughts, with approximately 30 from Strathmore and a dozen in Vulcan. Phyto Organix President and CEO Chris Theal said Phyto hopes to get farmers more involved with their products, beyond just being a supplier.

"The big message we tried to provide to them is that it simply wasn't just about sourcing 40 000 metric tons a year of yellow peas, it's really about what the vision is for building an agri-business hub in Strathmore. And that's beyond just the production of that volume," Theal said.

"What resonates for farmers in the area is that typically these peas are exported and they really have no identity with the other end of the food chain. And with what we do, we're going to trace a batch of peas from a farm through the process in terms of us manufacturing the protein isolate."

A big part of the facility is the reporting requirements around the peas. Theal explained Phyto Organix is focused on tracing the peas and their environmental impacts.

"There's two (requirements) that we really have around traceability, and that's simply from a food safety standpoint. Knowing where the peas were sourced from, when they were batched through our facility and when they were shipped, and that's a Health Canada requirement. Then we have some ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) reporting. Just understanding the GHG (Green House Gasses) footprint of what's been produced and supplied to our facility, the GHG footprint of our facility."

While that may seem like a lot of reporting, Theal assures farmers that they will be well compensated for their efforts.

"For the incremental effort of doing that, we'll pay a premium to call it the benchmark price of yellow pea for that incremental work and disclosure that they provide us."

When discussing the reporting requirements with farmers, Theal said that some of them were willing to do even more than what Phyto Organix was asking.

"Some of the farmers in the room yesterday suggested: 'this shouldn't be a once-a-year thing. We're happy to do this reporting in three intervals because it's more recent in terms of data and in our head and it's more accurate if we do it after seeding, mid-season and after harvest'."

"It was good and collaborative that way in taking feedback from farmers that it's more efficient for us and probably better data for us all around."

While the facility won't be opening until 2024, excitement is already building for local farmers. With an estimated annual GDP of $120 million and 80 jobs created, Phyto Organix could provide a big economic boost not just to Strathmore, but to all of Alberta.

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