Growing plant-based protein is becoming an increasingly popular industry in Nebraska, one of America’s largest beef states, according to a recent report in The Independent.
Though beef and cattle ranching are Nebraska’s preeminent industries, more farmers are turning to growing beans, peas and lentils in response to soaring demand for healthy plant proteins. The fertile, well-irrigated soils of Nebraska provide perfect growing conditions for peas – the top protein of choice for many plant-based brands, including Beyond Meat.
While plant protein production is already established in large meat-producing states like Montana and North Dakota, Nebraska’s plant-based interests are particularly noteworthy.
Proudly self-proclaimed the “Beef State”, Nebraska’s cattle population outnumbers people and beef production contributes approximately $12 billion to the state economy. Raising cattle is a deeply entrenched way of life, so the advent of plant-based meat alternatives has naturally met a largely negative response from area farmers and ranchers. Yet, a growing number of organizations are specifically choosing Nebraska as a prime location to expand the plant-based protein industry.
In March, Ingredion opened a state-of-the-art pea processing facility in South Sioux City, becoming the first North American company to produce pea protein isolates and starch. The company states the ingredients would be applicable in a wide number of food products including plant-based cheese, gelatin-free confectionery, and gluten-free baked goods.
Leading pea protein supplier PURIS has also scaled up its Nebraska investments, increasing pea production there by 81% since 2019, with more growth expected. According to the Independent, an increasing number of local farmers are turning to pea production as both a lucrative crop and a readily sustainable way to replenish and regenerate the health of the soil.
Plant protein’s untold potential
In 2017, Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown traveled to speak at the Nebraska Innovation Campus, a research extension of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Brown spoke candidly to agriculture students about Impossible Foods’ revolutionary work transforming plants into meat without sacrificing taste or enjoyment. Whether or not Brown influenced any students’ minds that day, his appearance powerfully symbolized the rich possibilities of using Nebraska’s storied farmlands to grow beef from plants instead of cows.
The US alternative meat market is projected to grow to $27.9bn by 2025, and pea protein represents the fastest-growing segment of that market. If more companies and farmers invest in the untold potential of Nebraska’s emerging plant protein industry, the area stands to reap the rewards, and may one day even become affectionately known as “The Bean State.”