By Magpie Group
Unlike farmers in warmer climates, the majority of Canadian farmers harvest crops only once a year. We make sure to fully use the crops we produce. Canadians are known for ingenuity and resourcefulness, and not much is wasted.
How is that possible?
It’s because, besides the food we eat, crops provide us with so many other products and materials we don’t usually connect to the field. These are called byproducts.
Byproducts are the unsung heroes of the agricultural world, and they deserve our attention, especially for those of us with a keen interest in food and sustainability.
What sets byproducts apart is their incredible versatility and potential. While they’re not the farm’s primary goal, they play a pivotal role in reducing waste and maximizing resources. It’s akin to a chef turning vegetable scraps into a flavourful stock or using citrus peels for a zest. On the farm, byproducts might include things like wheat stalks, damaged fruit or even the leaves that are trimmed from lettuce or cabbage. They often find second lives as valuable resources.
For instance, those wheat stalks can be baled and become bedding for livestock, and damaged fruit fed to livestock or turned into compost in innovative ways. Additionally, some byproducts are essential in processes like biofuel production, offering an energy source that further contributes to environmentally friendly practices.
Read on to find out more!
Just because we can’t eat it doesn’t mean Bessy won’t.
Not all food produced in Canada is suitable for people to eat. Crops can be damaged by insects, disease, frost, drought or other weather conditions. Even though they’re too damaged or too misshapen for human consumption, they can still be an excellent source of protein, energy and high-quality fibre for livestock, like cattle, pigs and poultry.
So rather than wasting this food, farmers repurpose it into more affordable livestock feed. Without these useful crop byproducts, livestock feed would be more expensive, leading to higher meat prices and steeper grocery bills. It’s a win-win!
DYK? Livestock are “up-cyclers.” Livestock are fed inedible byproducts and food waste that would otherwise go to the landfill. They convert it into high-quality protein for humans in the form of meat, eggs and milk.
What parts of a plant are considered byproducts?
In Canada, almost all parts of cereal and grain crops are used in some form, from the seed to the stalk.
Seeds from cereal crops (wheat, barley and oats) are used for making foods like bread, breakfast cereals, pasta and beer. We also eat the seed portion of pulses (peas, beans and lentils) and use the oil from oilseeds like canola and soybeans for cooking. What is left over has other purposes. Here are some examples:
- Chaff (seed pods, plant stems and other debris removed during harvesting) can be added to livestock feed to reduce costs.
- Straw (fibrous stalks of cereal crops) can be used to build organic matter in soil or made into bales and used as bedding to keep livestock warm and dry.
- Meal is a cakey substance that is left over after the oil is extracted from oilseeds like canola. It has an excellent nutritional profile and can be used in feed for nearly all types of livestock: beef and dairy cattle, swine, horse, small ruminants (sheep and goats), camelids (alpacas and llamas), pheasants, quail, game birds and ostriches.
- Ethanol (a liquid alcohol made from fermenting sugar or starch found in grains like corn or wheat) can be blended with gasoline to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.
- Distillers’ grains (a byproduct from ethanol production) is an excellent source of nutrients for livestock.
DYK? Canola meal is an important part of a dairy cow’s diet in Canada. Researchers have found that not only does canola meal provide a rich source of phosphorous, energy and amino acids, it increases milk production and improves cow health. Plus the cows find it tasty!
What happened to the pits of your canned peaches?
Fruit and vegetable byproducts are the secondary products that are discarded or wasted during food processing, usually because of their unfavourable taste or texture. They include peels, seeds, leaves, hulls, stems and stones.
However, many of these byproducts are rich in vitamins, minerals, protein and antioxidants. They are often used to enhance the nutritional value of foods. For example, researchers have been working on incorporating fruit and vegetable byproducts into noodles to improve their fibre and protein content.
Research also shows potential for adding natural compounds from fruits and vegetables to processed foods to act as food preservatives or to improve texture or colour. For example, veggie and fruit byproducts could be used in ice cream as a natural colorant, and lemon extracts have been used to help preserve cheese. The possibilities are endless!
Sweet and sturdy stuff
And there are LOTS of other crop byproducts that we haven’t mentioned.
Take sugar beets, for instance. In Canada, most of the sugar we use comes from sugar beets. After the sugar is removed, the remaining pulp is often sold for animal feed. And, believe it or not, de-sugared beet molasses is used as a de-icing product for roads and bridges in parts of Canada.
There’s also cellulose. This sturdy plant fibre is the main substance found inside plant walls. When extracted, it offers a biodegradable, renewable replacement for synthetic fibres in clothing, household goods and industrial manufacturing. These are called biofibres. Hemp (from the hemp plant) and linen (from the flax plant) are examples of mass-produced biofibres that are currently being used in the clothing industry.
Not to mention that hundreds of different fibrous plants, like wheat, hemp and flax, have potential to be manufactured into paper products!
Bioplastics are another potential byproduct of plants. Hemp is being researched as a bioplastic to replace fossil-based carbon in plastic with carbon from plant-based sources.
So, for those of us intrigued by food and its journey from farm to table, let’s not forget about those products that are lesser known, but just as important: the byproducts. They’re proof that, just like in a skilled chef’s kitchen, every part of the process is essential, and very little goes to waste. Byproducts not only enrich our understanding of how food is grown, but also underscore the critical importance of sustainability in food production.