Entering a New Decade for Pulse Research

Canadian Agricultural Partnership federal research funding application reflects the industry’s refined research and development goals

by Delaney Seiferling

Over the past eight years, the pulse industry and the Federal Government have partnered to jointly invest more than $30 million into pulse research through the Pulse Science Cluster program.

And now as it heads into the third phase of the program, known as the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP), the knowledge gained from the past two phases has sharpened the focus of the Canadian pulse industry’s goals for the next decade, says Dr. Lisette Mascarenhas, Director of Research and Development for Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG).

“We worked collaboratively with other provincial pulse grower groups, and Pulse Canada, to ensure that this application is targeted to the areas the pulse industry is looking to make advancements in,” she says.

One timely priority for the pulse industry is diversifying markets and products, Mascarenhas says, which is the goal of all processing and end utilization, and health-related research in the new slate of Cluster projects.

“Some of the areas which have been a focus in recent years, such as increasing production and variety performance, and reducing business risks by looking for new markets and end uses for pulses, are experiencing a renewed sense of priority in light of current market volatility.”

Another focus for the next phase of research will be developing varieties with increased nutrient density.

“It is not only improving yield that is important,” says Mascarenhas. “We are also looking at developing varieties with certain nutritional attributes — for example, high protein.”

This will be increasingly important as consumer demand continues to grow for food products that meet specific nutritional requirements. Already grain companies have begun to pay a premium for higher protein levels in yellow peas, a result of growing market demand.

This next phase will also include two projects that focus on health benefits associated with whole pulses, as past research and stakeholder feedback has indicated that this is the area with the greatest amount of potential right now, says Julianne Curran, Vice President, Food and Health, at Pulse Canada.

This is also the type of information that the food industry is looking for, as incentive to include pulses in their products, Curran says. “That is what we have consistently heard from them for the past decade — they are looking for this type of information, whether it leads to health claims, positions pulses favourably in dietary guidelines, or if it is just newsworthy and draws attention to pulses.”

The food processing industry has also made it clear that this information needs to come from trade associations and government, rather than for-profit companies, Curran says. “That way it is perceived as being more credible, with less associated bias.”

Another one of Pulse Canada’s ongoing goals has been obtaining health claims for pulses in Canada. Curran believes that the next phase of Cluster research might move the dial forward on that goal, through one specific study that will look at health
benefits associated with specific doses of Canadian-grown bean varieties.

“That is really the study that is needed to finalize the dossier for the claim on beans,” she says.

Process for Choosing Projects

Because the this partnership program represents a significant and rare opportunity to leverage grower and industry dollars — the government has contributed up to 70 per cent funding to the industry’s 30 per cent in the last two phases — SPG and other provincial pulse grower groups are very strategic in choosing research projects, to ensure they complement and do not duplicate the organization’s already robust research program, Mascarenhas says.

The process for the third phase of Federal funding began in September 2016, with a gathering of select members of the Canadian pulse industry to define industry priorities, followed by a call for letters of intent in October 2016, which resulted in approximately 100 research applications.

From there, staff spent more than a year carefully scrutinizing the applications, choosing projects that were aligned with SPG’s strategic plan, the needs of pulse growers in Saskatchewan, and the pulse industry’s goals. They also sought external expert reviews to assess technical feasibility of the proposed work and potential outcomes.

“There were several layers of scrutiny that went into this process before we finalized,” shares Mascarenhas. “There were instances where we asked researchers to work together on certain strategic topics and/or modify their submission based on what we felt the industry needed.”

Once this was complete, SPG met with the other provincial pulse grower and industry groups, and a science and industry advisory body, to decide on a final list of projects for submission to Agriculture and Agri‑Food Canada.

The application was submitted in early 2018 and SPG anticipates information on funding confirmation and government investment amounts will be available in the spring. Watch for more information about these projects on the SPG and Pulse Canada websites.

Pulse Science Cluster Background

The previous two Pulse Science Cluster programs ran from 2010–2013 and 2013–2018, under Agriculture and Agri‑Food Canada’s Growing Forward 1 and 2 programs. The overall goal of this program was to invest in research that will help build a strong, sustainable, and globally competitive pulse industry in Canada.

Growing Forward 1 funding contributions were split at 72 per cent AAFC funding, and 28 per cent industry funding. Growing Forward 2 funding leveraged 70 per cent AAFC funding and 30 per cent industry funding.

The third phase of the program, now called Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP), will run from 2018 to 2023. 

Participants in the pulse science cluster program include Pulse Canada, Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, Alberta Pulse Growers, Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers, Ontario Bean Growers, and private industry partners.