LOREBURN, Sask. — Farming was particularly tough 25 years ago when Lionel and Melody Ector started looking for options at their five-generation farm near Loreburn, just north of Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan.
“We decided to go into the post-processing export business,” Lionel said. “Pulse Canada had set up and arranged an international delegation to go over to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to let those ethnic importers know about the pulse crops that we were starting to grow and develop and how we’d be a major exporter of pulses moving into the future.”
It was the impetus to launch Diefenbaker Seed Processors, or DSP, to help sell the products grown on the farm. The Ector family enterprise, now called Diefenbaker Spice & Pulse, is celebrating its 25th year in business.
“It has evolved into a thriving business, employing locals who are able to stay in the area and raise their families.”
Few seed-processing companies operated in Western Canada at the time and the Ectors saw a chance for a processing and export business that would complement their commercial farm.
“I made a lot of contacts and a lot of phone calls,” Lionel said. “I was trading grain commodity futures and options with proprietary software and direct satellite feeds at that time. Very unusual, I can say, for anyone to do it back then.”
The Ectors steadily expanded their operation as word spread about the quality they offered.
“We basically were a just-in-time supplier to canners, wholesalers and repackagers around the world,” Lionel said.
Today, the DSP plant operates in 26,000 sq. feet of warehouse and processing space in adjoining buildings and 4,000 tonnes of storage capacity.
It can colour sort, destone, sift and size product. It also has pulse-grinding mills. Packing size ranges from one pound to one-tonne totes.
Products include the spices coriander, caraway and mustards. Pulse offerings include green and yellow peas (split and whole), beans, all colours of lentils, kabuli and desi chickpeas. Flax rounds out the list.
“Our niche is having a big warehouse where our products are neatly stacked ready for shipment,” Melody said. “We have these items ready to go so when an order is placed, we can order a truck for next day shipping.”
The company has 10 full-time employees, including the Ectors’ four children and the 12,000-acre family farm employs another five.
Stephanie, their eldest daughter joined DSP in January as chief financial officer. Sons Michael and Stuart are involved on the farm side. Their daughter Barbara is a CPA in Scottsdale, Arizona.
While they began with pulses and spices from their own farm, the Ectors now buy product from growers in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba.
“Our own farm-sourced product ends up being a small percentage of what we buy and we like to buy as local as possible for freight advantages,” Melody said.
Lionel said DSP also improved price discovery for farmers.
“People were actually able to phone us and to see what price we were offering. When we started, we actually offered pretty good premiums to growers over some of the other companies. Now with the internet and communication, social media, all those things, it is a very competitive marketplace and most companies have very similar price offerings to farmers for the grains that they sell.”
In addition to bulk and large bag shipments, DSP offers a branded line of Kashmir Valley retail products.
Lionel said the name Kashmir Valley was chosen because it is a recognized region between Pakistan and India, well known for its fertile ground and beautiful mountain scenery.
“That’s where we developed Kashmir Valley as our brand name, spelled as it would be in Asia to appeal to that marketplace,” said Lionel.
Melody said the business caters to Indian, Pakistan and Middle Eastern customers, who are familiar with pulses. However, they see their market share in North America outpacing their ethnic consumer base in Asia.
“Today, most of the activity seems to be evolving around the protein and starch fractionation type markets,” Lionel said.
“Pulse Canada worked very hard with the food processors and manufacturers to help them understand how the proteins and starches could be included in their food products, and substituted for other products such as wheat, for example, very easily, and how it could benefit their nutritional profiles and how it can meet their nutritional label targets and goals so that it would appeal to a very broad segment of the consumer market that is demanding healthier foods.”
He said substituting pulses for even a small portion of other ingredients would increase North American demand beyond that of overseas markets.
“Our products have evolved from being just a commodity to being an ingredient.
“All the grains, pulses that we export and receive could very easily be all consumed within North America. That actually has a lot of importers in other countries very nervous. If they lose Canada as a supplier, what’s going to happen to their sourcing and their pricing going forward?
“There’s a big world out there and there’s always a market for what we’re doing.”