Legislators tour Dawson pea plant; hear about developing crops

Photo by Deb Gau Nicole Atchison, CEO of PURIS Holdings, talks to a tour group including Minnesota legislators Thursday, at the company’s pea protein plant in Dawson. The plant separates out the protein and starch from peas, for use as food ingredients and other products.

DAWSON — New growth – both in terms of economic growth and new crop varieties – was in the spotlight at an event for area legislators on Thursday.

A group of state lawmakers toured the PURIS pea protein plant near Dawson, and also spoke with representatives of the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative. FGI leaders said the initiative is developing new perennial and winter annual crops that could benefit both Minnesota farmers and businesses like PURIS.

Dr. Don Wyse, co-director of the FGI, said the research being done by the initiative is focused on developing year-round crop systems that both help protect water quality and have value for farmers.

“I’m really interested in economic opportunities,” Wyse said of the FGI’s research and development.

“The university’s been doing a lot of good research,” said Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls. “There’s a lot of things happening now that are kind of on the cutting edge.”

Dahms, Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, and Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, all attended Thursday’s legislative event.

Legislators also had good things to say about the PURIS plant, which opened a year ago at the former AMPI dairy facility near Dawson. PURIS, the largest North American supplier of pea protein, refurbished the facility to separate out the protein, starch and fiber from peas.

“They have a very impressive system here,” Dahms said. Dahms and other legislators said it was good to see a company invest in a rural Minnesota community. The Dawson plant employs about 100 people, Puris representatives said.

Wyse said the FGI has been developing crops with the goal of having year-round cover in Minnesota fields. The plants the initiative is working with include perennials like intermediate wheatgrass, and winter annual crops like pennycress and camelina.

Intermediate wheatgrass, or Kernza, is a perennial plant that produces edible seeds, and also has grazing potential and a deep root system. Wyse said intermediate wheatgrass could be planted in places like well head areas, where it would help protect water quality while still keeping the land productive. The FGI is breeding intermediate wheatgrass to increase yields, Wyse said.

“People would like to see (yields) equivalent to spring wheat,” he said.

Wyse said the FGI is also studying pennycress and camelina, two plants that can produce oilseeds. They could also be planted in systems together with crops like soybeans.

FGI associate director Mitch Hunter said winter oilseeds had “massive” crop opportunities over the next three to five years, as a low-carbon fuel source.

PURIS Holdings CEO Nicole Atchison discussed the company’s growth in recent years. There has been interest in peas as a source of plant-based protein, she said.

“Demand has been increasing a lot,” Atchison said. Pea protein is used as an ingredient in a wide variety of foods, including meat and egg substitutes, she said. There are also a variety of commercial uses for the pea starch.

PURIS is headquartered in Minneapolis, but has plants in Dawson and Randolph, Minnesota, as well as in South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.

“This is the perfect plant for what we do,” Atchison said of the Dawson location. The plant had the infrastructure PURIS needed, as well as good access to labor and room to expand.

FGI’s work on winter annuals “Could be very interesting for us,” Atchison said. She said it was also exciting to see the work the initiative was doing with winter peas in Minnesota.


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