Canola’s role is creating more sustainable fish feed… and more jobs for Canadians

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Speaking of Salmon: CAIA’s Tim Kennedy in conversation with Botaneco’s David Dzisiak

Tim Kennedy, President and CEO of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) recently sat down talk with the Chief Operating Officer of Botaneco, David Dzisiak, about Canadian innovations in Canola protein that are creating more sustainable fish feed and unlocking economic potential. Read their full conversation:

Tim Kennedy
Tell us about Botaneco and your role in it.

David Dzisiak
Botaneco is a 7-year-old company that’s been working on a unique new way to process oilseed crops like canola, sunflower and hemp.

Traditionally, oilseed processing has been focused on extracting the oil that Canadians buy in the grocery store every day, like our bottled canola oil. Botaneco brings a new process where we isolate and purify all the major parts inside the seed so we can separate the lipids, the protein, and the carbohydrates. Working this way, we get to preserve their l natural quality and functionality. And that lets us really take these co-products from the seed and put them into new, more valuable products, like aquaculture feed.

As for me, I’m the Chief Operating Officer and a co-founder of Botaneco. Over the years, we’ve completed five different feeding trials in salmon and shrimp and progressed lots of production research. So today we can now produce this new canola protein for the aquaculture market, mainly as salmon and shrimp feed.

Nature makes and stores oil within a seed. Think about it as a tiny balloon, and inside the balloon is the oil. So, instead of crushing the seed and rupturing the balloon and squeezing out the oil, we recover the balloons intact. And these oil balloons call oleosomes have very good properties for moisturizing your skin and helping all your personal care lotions feel better and cover you better in a very natural way. This is also a benefit to aquaculture as we can also isolate and purify the proteins in canola at the same time as we process the seeds and put them in a form that can be used in a salmon diet.

Today we are the only company anywhere that can take canola meal, which traditionally has gone into feed for dairy cattle, and re-engineer it for fish. Because of how we process our meal, we can preserve the nutritional and the digestibility elements of canola protein, then package it up into a very high-density concentrate. We have a 75% concentration canola protein that fits into a salmon’s diet very well. The canola protein concentrate formulates easily, and it has the process has the size and scale required for the salmon industry.

In fact, our goal was always to create a production methodology that would let us commercialize agricultural based feed products with better proteins, which is our main focus now, and then take that experience and see how we can provide better products for the human food market.

It’s intriguing that we can potentially produce these high-grade proteins to go into Canadian salmon farming feed. Are high-grade feeds one of the factors driving the growth of salmon farming here?

Today produce more salmon from aquaculture than we get from a wild catch. This is true not just in Canada, but worldwide. Fish today is the largest source of protein globally in the human diet, so how we feed those fish is very important for our own nutrition. And fish, especially salmon, is a very healthy source of protein. As consumers want to maintain and improve their health and eat healthier diets, salmon is a really good choice.

All this means the demand for feed ingredients for aquaculture is growing at a pretty good clip globally. And salmon is unique. They are cold water fish, and so they eat a high protein, high fat diet and the salmon industry is very advanced in terms of its farming methodologies. And their nutrition is very advanced as well. So, to produce salmon in the most efficient way, the dietary requirements of a salmon ration are very sophisticated. Protein is 60% of the of a salmon’s diet and so it needs high-quality protein that’s very well balanced nutritionally and that’s also very safe. The salmon can eat it, have good feed intake and good feed conversion so that it grows safely and cost-effectively.

The salmon industry globally is looking for new sustainable feed ingredients that it can be part of a salmon diet — and canola is a great way to do that. It really is the last large reservoir of undeveloped plant protein that could fit well into that kind of diet. The amino acids in canola align extremely well with the dietary requirement of salmon. Canola is absolutely unique that way.

The market for our canola product is large and growing. It’s also under-utilized, and since canola is a very large crop, is grown in a very sustainable fashion, it’s widely available in Canada is has the key attributes for value-added processing. It’s very scalable and cost-effective feedstock. All of these elements help address the most important needs for salmon agriculture — not to mention for Canadian aquaculture.

Can you tell me how Ottawa has supported these innovations? And what’s the value-add for Canada’s economy?

Agriculture is one of Canada’s most important industries – and has great prospects for growth.

Canola has been one of our shining stars – it’s the most profitable crop for farmer to grow, it's large scale; and it's important in the economic base for Canadian agriculture.

But we have a history in Canada of exporting our raw materials and not doing value-added processing here at home. One of the valuable initiatives that the government has undertaken is with the Global Supercluster program and creating Protein Industries Canada to help focus and invest in technology areas that can really help drive change. Protein Industries Canada is one of the Supercluster Program initiatives that’s really focused on developing and value-adding our domestic protein crops here in Canada.

That program has helped create an ecosystem around value-added plant protein in Canada and it's provided important resources both financially and technically.

They’ve helped a small company like Botaneco advance our process research, conduct our feeding trials, prove our product concepts so we’re ready to produce them commercially. That alone has been transformative in changing our industries mindset from being export focused into being focused on creating new domestic value.

You’re a real thought leader in the agrifood sector. My first exposure to you was your op-eds in The Globe and Mail. From that big picture of the opportunity here for Canada, can you speak to how we move to the next level of development?

I think the greatest need is having a national strategy and good alignment across industry and with government. The world has changed – deeply and quickly. Supply chains have been disrupted by COVID and the war in Ukraine. I know we now talk about shortening up our supply chains so we don’t have to rely on some faraway supplier in a foreign country to give us the materials we need to help our economy grow.

I think agriculture and especially aquaculture is a great opportunity for that. I know that we have a situation where the demand for aquaculture products is growing globally. Canada has great aquaculture technology know-how, and a base of salmon farmers and other aquaculture producers.

We're one of the few countries in the world with a coastline and geography that could really lets us expand the industry to help feed the world and supply healthier food products to our consumers.. We've have raw materials here like canola that we can take greater advantage of and that will support much more of a circular economy domestically.

There’s a willingness in industry today to take advantage of our resources and expand the aquaculture industry. And we can do that in a very sustainable way.

Salmon farming has been spectacular in how it addresses sustainability and consumer needs. We can put healthier food products on consumer plates, we can produce it domestically, and we can support our value-added plant processing industry here while supporting Canadian farmers with value added domestic markets. I think if we can better align around the market need and opportunities, put the right public policies in place, and let the industry do what it can do to serve sustainable economic growth, there's a tremendous opportunity for Canada.

You've been in the food sector a long time, but you’ve only recently focused on seafood. Can you give us a sense of how we bring seafood into the national food conversation more?

Diets are changing globally and domestically. I can remember when salmon used to be a very expensive protein you only ate on rare occasions and couldn't afford to order in a restaurant because it was more expensive than steak. It’s a great success story of the Canadian aquaculture industry that we improved our efficiency and scale to the point where salmon’s been moved to the center of the plate - it’s now a day-to-day item versus something that’s served on a special occasion.

The credit for much of that goes to the productivity of salmon farmers, of aquaculture. They have made salmon much more affordable and accessible.

The next opportunity is for salmon farming to address climate change, reduce our carbon emissions and our carbon footprint. It takes so much less carbon to produce a pound of salmon than it does to produce a pound of beef.

Canada has a real opportunity to help export low carbon foods, like farm-raised salmon, to other parts of the world to offset land-based protein production. And we can do it in a very sustainable way, both economically and socially. Salmon production is typically done in rural areas, which brings high quality jobs to remote areas. So, aquaculture can play a really important role in creating better food, better diets, reducing our carbon footprint, and being able to grow economic opportunity for Canadians.

How can Canada better manage its aquaculture sector from a government perspective? 

There is an l separation in the food conversation in Canada when it comes to seafood. Aquaculture should be included along with the rest of Canada’s farming operations under Agriculture Canada. Aquaculture is an economic enterprise, and we need to manage and treat it as a such so we can realize its potential, realize its opportunity, and make it central to our overall food production chain. If it were managed under Agriculture Canada, we can start to better realize the economic opportunity and develop the sector on its merits while protecting our oceans and native stocks.