Pigs' milk and potash: Saskatchewan grower dominates the fenugreek market

A Saskatchewan producer seems to have cornered the national market on a lesser-known crop with a wide range of uses.

Saskatchewan had 100% of Canada's fenugreek crops in 2016: StatsCan

Fenugreek seeds are commonly used in the preparation of pickles and curry powders as well as Indian, Ethiopian and Yemeni cuisine. (Submitted by Nathan Sudom)

A Saskatchewan producer seems to have cornered the national market on a lesser-known crop with applications as diverse as pigs' milk and potash.

Nathan Sudom appears to be the only fenugreek exporter in Canada, according to numbers released by Statistics Canada on Thursday.

"It's a pretty cool company, you know, being able to take a product from Saskatchewan, and export it all around the world and add value to customers," said Sudom, CEO of Emerald Seed Products located in Avonlea, Sask., located 80 kilometres southwest of Regina.

He and his family have been producing fenugreek for over 25 years.

Nathan Sudom shows off some fenugreek seeds. (Submitted by Nathan Sudom)

According to Statistics Canada, 2,809 acres of fenugreek crops were reported in 2016 and 100 per cent of those crops were in Saskatchewan. Comparatively, there were only 179 acres of fenugreek reported in Canada in 2001.

Sudom said he thinks all of the province's fenugreek crops are grown by farmers he does business with.

He buys the crops from those farmers and exports them to to the United States, Japan, Israel and Bangladesh, among other countries.

Unlikely uses

A study published by Cambridge University tested fenugreek on dairy cows, generating interest in it as an alternative to alfalfa which may increase lactation for some farm animals. Sudom said his top importers have used the plant to increase milk production in pigs.

It is also used as a precipitating agent in the potash industry.

Fenugreek has a wide variety of uses. (iStock)

"The mining side, it's something that's completely different and you don't really see at all really," he said explaining that a viscous solution extracted from the plant's seeds is used by clients in Saskatchewan to clean potash.

The plant is also used as a culinary spice, most commonly found in Indian curry dishes.

Cornered market a rarity

An analyst from Statistics Canada said Sudom may have coined a rare Canadian market.

"It's not something we see all the time," said Eric Neudorf, analyst with the census of agriculture for Statistics Canada.

He compared Saskatchewan's fenugreek production to Ontario's sweet potatoes in 2016, when they held 99 per cent of Canada's total crops.

"Although there were small plots of sweet potatoes across Canada it's not quite the same as fenugreek where it's all in one place," he said, attributing southern Saskatchewan's hot and dry summers to the plant's segregated growth pattern.