Alberta plant protein sector gets $2.6M boost in federal gov't funding for small food producers
COVID-19 has created uncertainty for many food-related businesses, gov't says
The federal government is rolling out $18 million in support for projects they say will help strengthen Canada's food supply chain.
The funds are going everywhere from an Alberta company focusing on plant-based proteins to distilleries in Quebec seeking to upgrade their equipment.
Some money is also being directed to small towns in Northern Ontario to hire staff and interns to help on agriculture-related work.
Terry Duguid, a Winnipeg MP and parliamentary secretary for Western Economic Diversification Canada, says the COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty for many food-related businesses.
He says the government intends the funds to help them weather that and be well-positioned for future business.
The Food Processing Development Centre in Leduc, Alta., a 140,000-square-foot, Alberta government-owned facility, will receive $2.6 million toward equipment that will help companies develop new plant-based foods and products.
The centre offers equipment and scientists to help food and beverage entrepreneurs with product research and development. Since 1984, the facility's focus has expanded from Alberta's meat industry to working with any food or beverage product.
According to a Wednesday news release from Western Economic and Diversification, plant-based foods represent a significant economic opportunity for western Canadian companies.
"With Western Canada already producing high-protein pulse crops such as peas, lentils, and chickpeas, the goal of this initiative is to enable agri-food producers to turn these crops into higher value ingredients or finished products before exporting them to markets around the globe," stated the release.
'About the future'
The Liberals have been under sustained pressure from farmers and food producers to do more to address the issues the COVID-19 pandemic has created for the sector.
Among other things, there have been outbreaks of the illness among farm workers and in processing plants, and sharp declines for certain products due to the near shutdown of the entire hospitality industry leading to an oversupply of food with no markets.
While the federal government initially responded with a $252 million bailout package, they were criticized for including in that some previously announced money.
The funds being announced today comes from the budgets of the various federal economic development agencies, which focus on supporting hyper-local initiatives.
In some cases, the funding represents deals that were in the works well before the pandemic, or is being given to the companies in the form of repayable loans.
Duguid said while some of the money may have been earmarked pre-pandemic, it doesn't discount the benefit it will bring to businesses.
"This is about today, this is about COVID, this is about a difficult time but it is also about the future," he said.
With files from CBC Edmonton